Orchestra della Svizzera italiana / Damian Iorio
Symphony no.6 ‘degli archi’ (1947)
Serenata mattutina (1959)
Cinque studi (1959-60)
Naxos 8.574173 [58’32”]
Producer and Engineer Michael Rast
Recorded 2-5 May 2017, Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI, Lugano
Written by Richard Whitehouse
What’s the story?
The Naxos label continues its long-term traversal of the extensive orchestral output by Gian Francesco Malipiero (1882-1973) with the present collection, which juxtaposes two of the Venetian composer’s most intriguing such pieces alongside two of his most characteristic.
What’s the music like?
Most substantial is the sixth of Malipiero’s 17 symphonies (only 11 of these are numbered sequentially). Its subtle, ‘of the strings’, is significant in this being a work written with the intrinsic sound of these instruments to the fore – notably in the modally infused harmonies that determine musical content and formal follow-through; the latter worth bearing in mind given the composer’s determination to eschew thematic development of the Austro-German tradition in favour of a motivic evolution that, as Ernest Ansermet pointed out, ‘’generate[s] other motif [that] do not carry the musical discourse – they are, rather, carried by it”. This is evident in the brusquely compressed first and third movements, but also the arching phrases of the lento (one of Malipiero’s finest inspirations) and the fantasia-like format of the finale.
The two sets of shorter pieces were written almost 35 years apart, but the stylistic difference between them is not merely one of ‘historical inevitability’. Thus, the Rediscoveries are full of formal quirks (not least the way in which the plangent central lento’s going off at a tangent is carried over into the ensuing intermezzo), along with an expressive acerbity redolent more of Milhaud than Hindemith. By the time of the Five Studies, Malipiero was in all senses the elder statesmen of Italian music and was held in high esteem – albeit as a figurehead rather than an active influence – by the post-war generation. It is not difficult to hear elements of Dallapiccola or even Maderna in these terse and gnomic utterances, though the penultimate Lento evinces a ruminative poise and emotional serenity which could only be by Malipiero.
Which leaves Morning Serenade, scored for a diverse ensemble handled with unobtrusive mastery and unfolding as a sequence of subtle variations on its opening idea that gradually draw the music deeper and more contemplatively into itself. Whether or not this piece was intended as a literal evocation, it assuredly sums up those qualities of Malipiero’s mature language which are most likely to appeal to listeners of the present and, for which reason, might be considered an ideal point of entry into an output that defies easy categorization.
Does it all work?
Almost always. Malipiero was never a composer for whom technical processes or emotional accessibility are paramount. Rather, he sought out new approaches to age-old issues that may have bemused his contemporaries but will intrigue those willing to listen without prejudice.
Is it recommended?
Indeed. The performances here could hardly be bettered, with Damian Iorio securing playing of real precision and impetus from his Swiss Italian musicians. Earlier recordings of the Sixth Symphony (by Antonio de Almeida on Naxos) and Morning Serenade (by Stefano Cardi on Stradivarius) are surpassed, while sound and annotations leave little to be desired.
Hopefully Naxos might yet issue one of the numerous stage-works informing every phase of Malipero’s career; in the meantime, this disc is cordially recommended to devotees and newcomers alike.
You can listen to clips from this disc and purchase a copy at the Naxos website here
You can read Arcana’s interview with conductor Damian Iorio here, where he talks more extensively about his experience of more modern Italian classical music