MARTUCCI: Piano Concerto No. 1 in d, Op. 40; La canzone del ricordi – Gesualdo Coggi, piano/ Silvia Pasini, mezzo-soprano/ Rome Symphony Orchestra/ Francesco La Vecchia, conductor – Naxos 8570931, 67:53 *****:
MARTUCCI: Symphony No. 2 in F, Op.81; Theme and Variations, Op. 58; Gavotta, Op. 55:2; Tarantella, Op. 44:6 – Lya De Barberiis, piano/ Rome Symphony Orchestra/ Francesco La Vecchia, conductor – Naxos 8570930, 69:44 *****:
Giuseppe Martucci (1856-1909) is a composer of no little success during his lifetime. Hailed as one of the premiere pianists of the age, he was also named the conductor of the Orchestra Napoletana, widely considered to be the best in Italy at the time. He tirelessly sought to expand the repertory and introduced many works by the best romantic composers of the age, including the Italian debuts of Tristan und Isolde and Gotterdammerung, as well as British and French music. He was acknowledged as the leading Italian composer of the second half of the nineteenth century.
Naxos has embarked on a complete orchestral music series of which these are the second and third volumes. Martucci would certainly be pleased, as these performances are outstanding, played to perfection by the Rome Symphony and captured is excellent sound. The First Piano Concerto was not published until 95 years after it was written, and the composer evidently didn’t think much about it. Perhaps that is because it is so redolent of Mendelssohn and Chopin in places. However, even here we are given hints of the vast originality of this man’s music that would become so evident in just a few years. The one composer that kept popping into my mind was Sibelius; there are many moments of the stark austere beauty that so makes the Finnish composer’s output that I hear in snippets all over this wonderful concerto.
La canzone del ricordi (“The Song of Remembrance”) is a terrific orchestral song cycle (though only orchestrated eleven years after it was created) that seems miles beyond its time. As an orchestral cycle only Berlioz was writing anything comparable at the moment with his Les Nuits D’ete, and Martucci takes his time to explore the textual nuances in each of these poems with delicacy and depth. I have only one other recording of this, that of Riccardo Muti and the La Scala Orchestra on Sony (with a wonderful performance of the Second Piano Concerto) sung by Mirella Freni. To my mind, though I do think that Muti’s faster tempos (in all but one of the numbers) are more in character, the singing of mezzo Silvia Pasini easily equals and even tops that of Freni, well past her prime at the time.
The second disc contains Martucci’s masterpiece Symphony No. 2. It was written in the last ten years of his life and took him over five years to complete. Toscanini took it up early on and remained a fervent advocate for the piece. The work is preciously imaginative with one of the most intriguing scherzos you will ever hear. The disc is rounded out with a fine Theme and Variations for Piano and Orchestra that is Martucci’s only other work for piano with orchestra—and it took a while to reach this format—while the two remaining orchestral works are orchestrations of later piano pieces, each of great originality and attraction. This is a not-to-be-missed series.
— Steven Ritter