WORKS: Symphony No. 2; Theme and Variations, Op. 58; Gavotta, Op. 55/2; Tarantella, Op. 44/6
PERFORMER: Lya De Barberiis (piano); Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma/Francesco La Vecchia
CATALOGUE NO: 8.570930
Were any Italians writing orchestral and instrumental music while Verdi, Puccini and their inferiors were writing operas? Hard to say without reflection, however this admirable pair of Naxos discs gives something of an answer.
Giuseppe Martucci (1856-1909) set out to introduce contemporary Austro-German symphonic music to Italy, and gained a champion in Toscanini, who performed several of his largest works many times. This is good, interesting second-rate music.
Highly professional, Martucci clearly made a particular study of Brahms, Schumann, Wagner and I should think Bruckner. The symphonies are large-scale works, tending towards the bombastic, without quite lapsing into it, and uncertain about how to develop their often interesting themes in a convincing way. In this respect the Symphony No. 2 is a marked advance on No. 1, enjoyable as that is.
They both have serious, strenuous first movements, elegiac slow movements, Scherzos that alternate mischief and menace and weighty, cumulative Finales. It’s a pity Martucci doesn’t quite manage memorable material to begin with, so it’s hard to follow what he does to his themes, but there’s enough of interest here to want to hear more.
The other works on these discs are arrangements of piano pieces, Martucci being a virtuoso pianist. The 12-minute Andante on the first disc, arranged for solo cello and orchestra, is a gem, with Andrea Noferini playing with so much vibrato that hearing it would carry Norrington off. It’s followed by a Notturno which, if Puccini in his mature phase had written an orchestral piece, might well be it.
Playing is sometimes rough, but the conductor has the right ideas. Well worth investigating. Michael Tanner