ALFONSO REGA: Sinfonia No. 7, “11 Settembre” – Musicale Vicentina /Concentus Aponius/ Heinrich Unterhofer – [no disc #] (Distr. by Phoenix Classical) (12/4/06), 54:02 ***½:
I first heard some of Alfonso Rega’s music a few years ago with his Symphony No. 4, “The Holocaust.” I remember being impressed with his craft and his emotion but not being all that taken with the effect and “weight” of the music that sought to address such a serious topic. So, I was glad to have come across Rega’s Symphony No.7, “September 11”, but being a little skeptical about this topic and the ensuing results.
I think I get it and I have a deeper appreciation this time around. Rega is, in most ways, a self-taught composer with a strong background in conducting and performing as well. His music does contain strong emotional appeal and is wholly tonal and easy to listen to. It is also the product of what must surely be Rega’s life-long familiarity with opera.
There have been many artistic reactions to the horrors of September 11, 2001. Most of the music written to commemorate or depict or react to the fateful day has a very different sound and emotional level than in Rega’s piece. Certainly somewhere near the top of the list for raw, bone-jarring sound and almost unbearable emotion is John Adams’ On the Transmigration of Souls. Works like Steve Reich’s WTC 9/11 or Robert Moran’s Trinity Requiem also go straight for the rawness of the event. Alfonso Rega is no less sincere and, as his notes suggest, no less emotionally rattled by the event but his compositional approach to the matter is more subdued and a bit more requiem-like.
In fact, were it not for the subtitle and the program notes that acknowledge the source of his inspiration, I am pretty sure no one hearing this would immediately think of September 11. The music is poignant, sad and reflective and actually conjures up Verdi in places. The movement titles tell the tale of the emotion: “The Crash”, “Desperation” and “Anguish and Scare” to mention but three of the seven connected sections. To the point, even the 2nd movement, “The Crash”, is louder and more rhythmically kinetic than the peace of what comes “Before” but it certainly does not have the ‘make you jump out of your seat’ quality of Adams’ work, as an example. As I mention, it’s okay. I think I understand Rega’s art a little more now.
In some ways, it helps to remember he is Italian and he comes from a tradition very different than the relatively new and more theatrical approach of the American composers. The 6th movement, “Anguish and Scare”, has some swirling strings and pulsing winds that reminded me, again, of Verdi.
Rega organizes his own performances and recordings with his regular conducting collaborator, Heinrich Unterhofer, and what is basically a pickup orchestra and chorus. (The vocalists sound good and – again – operatic in the “Pietas” movement. It may help if Rega and Phoenix Classical would provide the texts) The performances are good and attention-getting. It really seems unclear how much play Rega’s music would get in subscription concert halls or how well his recordings have become known. This release, in fact, goes back to 2006. So far it seems a bit sparse but his music is worth hearing.
As I have decided, Alfonso Rega writes a lot of music on historical occurrences and even some classical literature that have moved him, not necessarily in a very obviously thematic way. You would probably enjoy this piece (or his “Holocaust” Symphony) without having a notion what its theme or subtitle is. For me, I want to hear more. I am not quite sure where I place Rega’s work in the big picture. However, this is a pleasant and moving listening experience, with or without context.