MAURO GIULIANI: Works for Flute and Guitar = Grand Potpourri in C Major, Op. 126; Qual mesto gemito: Quintetto nella Semiramide di Rossini Ridotto; Variazione in A Major, Op. 84; Notturno in D Minor, Op. 86 No. 16; Notturno in F Major, Op. 86 No. 11; Polonese in A Major WO Op. ; Preußischer Marsch; Marsch der Schweden; Österreichischer Marsch; Serenata in G Major; Op. 127 – Andrea Lieberknecht, flute / Frank Bungarten, guitar – MD&G multichannel SACD MDG 905 1635-6, 68:37 [Distr. by E1] ****
If Mauro Giuliani has been hailed as the Beethoven of the guitar, then the music on this disc is comparable not to the virtuoso Beethoven of the piano concertos but to the more comfortable Beethoven of his earliest years in Vienna, the Beethoven of Hausmusik and Gebrauchsmusik. However, in the case of Giuliani the years of his virtuoso compositions for guitar, including his concertos, were his first years in Vienna. As the high opus numbers on this disc indicate, the music for flute (or violin) and guitar is mostly from his second creative period, when Giuliani branched out, providing music that the diversion-hungry middle class could play and listen to in their own homes. That includes the music of Rossini, who was all the rage in the Vienna of the eighteen-teens. Beethoven decried the public’s embrace of Rossini. Schubert, on the other hand, felt if you can’t lick ’em, join ’em; his two Overtures in the Italian Style were an attempt to cash in on the craze.
So, too, Giuliani’s Grand Potpourri and Qual mesto gemito. Written in Naples, the Grand Potpourri weaves variations on themes from Rossini’s Zelmira and Semiramide, together with a Neapolitan canzonetta, Mannaggia pallece, and a theme from Donizetti’s Alfredo il Grande for good measure. The appearance of the canzonetta is one of the more striking in the piece, sung quietly by the flute over pinging harmonics from the guitar; it provides ample contrast to Donizetti’s haughty little march tune and the bravura finale that follows. The result is a tasty helping of musical spumoni.
Qual mesto gemito is based on the quintet from Act I of Semiramide. In the opera, Queen Semiramis is interrupted by subterranean rumblings from the crypt where the murdered King Nino is buried. The crypt doors part, and the spirit of Nino rises from the grave. Giuliani captures this moment through a series of three tremolos in the guitar’s lower range, followed by agitated arpeggio figures. More scene painting toward the end of the piece, as the quintet of singers recoil with horror. Despite all the distressing stage business in the original, Giuliani’s piece is pretty sedate—and rather pretty.
That can be said of most of the pieces on this recording. Giuliani’s gift for the tenderly melodic and for a naturally unfolding development of the themes is evident throughout. Little demand is made on either the listener or the players—except, of course, for beautiful sound production, which performers Andrea Lieberknecht and Frank Bungarten provide from the word go. Oh, and then the Potpourri and Variations in A Major do require a measure of virtuosity in the more rousing pages. The one place in the program where I sat up and took notice was at the start of the Prussian March, written – according to the note writer – for a contingent of mounted infantry. The jog-trot pace, together with the jaunty dotted rhythms, is a wakeup call, just in case the earlier pieces may have lulled you into a dream state. The Swedish March, on the other hand, is anything but upbeat – having the pace and even the demeanor of a funeral march, wherefore I know not.
The Serenata that concludes the recital is an extended late work written in Naples. There are four movements: a Maestoso overture; a tender sighing Menuetto; a theme and variations, Giuliani’s specialty, and a bouncy Allegro finale with a passing reference to Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja from The Magic Flute – which again would have charmed the opera-loving middle classes for whom Giuliani wrote. This piece best shows the range of Mauro Giuliani’s compositional talents and makes for a satisfying conclusion.
The bottom line: attractive music, equally attractive performances, a beautifully natural sound recording. Recommended!
— Lee Passarella
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