Wolf-Ferrari: I gioielli della Madonna

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COMPOSERS: Wolf-Ferrari
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: I gioielli della Madonna – Suite; I quattro rusteghi – Suite; Suite-Concertino in F, Op. 16; Il segreto di Susanna – Overture; Intermezzo; L’amore medico – Overture; Intermezzo; Il campiello – Intermezzo; Ritornello; La dama boba – Overture
PERFORMER: Karen Geoghegan (bassoon); BBC Philharmonic/Gianandrea Noseda
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10511

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The Neapolitan carnival music that opens the suite from I gioielli della Madonna certainly gets this collection off to a rousing start, but it’s the least characteristic music on the disc.

Verismo was not really Wolf-Ferrari’s thing and it’s perhaps no surprise that the German-based composer’s too obviously calculated attempt to break into the Italian operatic market only really enjoyed success in the English-speaking world. Still, when it’s played with this kind of Fellini-esque swagger and unashamed love of a big tune, even its occasional vulgarities prove quite irresistible.

For the rest of his operatic life, though, Wolf-Ferrari remained securely within the comfort zone of the gracefully turned, tuneful pastiche-Baroque settings of classic Venetian comedies with which he had first made his name (and had also quietly stolen a march on the neo-Classical revival).

The basic musical formula and affectionate air of gentle nostalgia always remained much the same, but Wolf-Ferrari enriched them with novel effects, and Gianandrea Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic weight and pace these often featherlight textures to perfection, particularly in the several delightful song-based movements with plucked or strummed accompaniments.

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But where this disc scores over most comparable compilations is in offering not just all the usual operatic favourites but also a substantial 20-minute bonus in the form of the 1933 Suite-Concertino for bassoon and strings (plus two horns). This is something different, at least in the opening Notturno, where Karen Geoghegan exudes a tender melancholy as the so often clownish bassoon puts on its sad face and wails its lonely lament through the night, even if it awakes more predictably to a bubbliness for the remaining three movements. Mark Pappenheim