WORKS: Preludio sinfonico; Capriccio sinfonico; Intermezzo from Le villi; Elegia; Scherzo; Contemplazione
PERFORMER: La Scala PO/Riccardo Muti. La Scala PO/Riccardo Muti
CATALOGUE NO: SK 63025
In an essay grandly titled ‘The Italian Symphonic Tradition in the 19th Century’, Sony’s CD booklet decries the neglect of that category of Italian music. Would that the CD substantiated the complaint, but between them Ponchielli and Catalani do little to suggest that an injustice has prevented wider appreciation of their non-operatic output. The former’s Elegia is a ponderous fit of mourning, while Catalani’s Contemplazione – a dreamy, ruminative exercise in melancholy – is overlong and fails to hit any emotional targets.
Puccini’s contributions are a cut above. The Preludio sinfonico by the then teenage composer is bright and confident, its exuberant orchestration and expressive climaxes offering clear indications of the glories to come. Capriccio sinfonico, Puccini’s final work while a student at the Milan Conservatoire, prefigures the great opera composer to an even larger extent by including the first outing (in identical orchestration) of what were to become the opening bars of La bohème some 13 years later.
Taken as a whole, the CD is unsatisfying, and during the Ponchielli and Catalani even Muti and the La Scala Philharmonic struggle to maintain enthusiasm. But to anyone who loves his operas, the glimpses of the young Puccini will be fascinating. Christopher Wood