Casella: A notte alta; 11 pezzi infantili; Due ricercari sul nome B-A-C-H; Pagine di guerra; Toccata

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COMPOSERS: Casella
LABELS: ASV
WORKS: A notte alta; 11 pezzi infantili; Due ricercari sul nome B-A-C-H; Pagine di guerra; Toccata
PERFORMER: Sandro Ivo Bartoli, Marcello Guerrini (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CD DCA 1023
Alfredo Casella is best remembered today for his neo-Classical pastiches, including Scarlattiana and Paganiniana, or for his wryly humorous compositions such as the 11 Children’s Pieces included on this disc. That there is another side to him is indicated by the most substantial item here, the tone poem A notte alta – a mysterious vision of two lovers confronting the implacable grandeur of nature. It is a piece of almost unrelieved sombreness, and its material is dangerously monochrome. Not altogether surprisingly, Casella later made an arrangement for piano and orchestra, invoking the aid of such ‘colouristic’ instruments as harp, celesta and xylophone.

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Rather more impressive is a set of four piano duets called Pagine di guerra, inspired by newsreel footage of the First World War (like Debussy’s contemporaneous war piece for two pianos, En blanc et noir, it quotes from the ‘Marseillaise’), but even here – as elsewhere – Casella places far too much reliance on ostinati. Sandro Ivo Bartoli’s performances are devoted, if somewhat undercharacterised. This is music that really needs stronger advocacy if it is to make much of an effect. Misha Donat