Menotti: Apocalisse; Sebastian Suite; Fantasia for cello & orchestra

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COMPOSERS: Menotti
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Apocalisse; Sebastian Suite; Fantasia for cello & orchestra
PERFORMER: Raphael Wallfisch (cello); Spoleto Festival Orchestra/Richard Hickox
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9900
Given the success with which Menotti has in a long life pursued his career as man-of-the-theatre, the accomplishment of his instrumental music comes as no surprise. That said, some vital spark is sometimes absent from these scores; or is it that their Romantic gestures, once bravely or perspicuously espoused, can now sound as lifeless as the corpse of Sebastian, hero of the composer’s ballet of 1941?

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Commandingly picturesque, the suite extracted from it suggests he was wise to confine his powers to the stage for maximum effect. And, conforming to type, the opening paragraph of the 1976 Fantasia (though cellists may find it excellent fodder) resembles every melancholy strain from Schumann to Walton that has ever been taken for a cellist’s opening gambit.

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More substantial is the programme symphony Apocalisse of 1952, worthy to stand beside the orchestral works of Menotti’s one-time companion Samuel Barber as a pillar of American mid-century musical Romanticism. Hickox warms especially to ‘La città celeste’, with its shades of VW’s seraphic Fifth. Elsewhere, material is handled in a manner traditional yet timely, the opening fanfare, with its eloquent silences, returning within the scherzo-finale to round off a piece unafraid to boast of its symphonic credentials. Nicholas Williams