MENOTTI: Violin Concerto; Cantilena e Scherzo for harp and string quartet; Five Songs; Canti Della Lontananza – Ittai Shapira, violin/Russian Philharmonic Orchestra/Sanderling (Violin Concerto)/ Vanbrugh Quartet/Gillian Tingay, harp – ASV

by | Jan 14, 2006 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

MENOTTI: Violin Concerto; Cantilena e Scherzo for harp and string quartet; Five Songs; Canti Della Lontananza – Ittai Shapira, violin/Russian Philharmonic Orchestra/Sanderling (Violin Concerto)/ Vanbrugh Quartet/Gillian Tingay, harp (Cantilena e Scherzo)/ Christine Brewer,soprano/RogerVignoles, piano (Five Songs and Canti Della Lontananza) – ASV CD DCA 1156, 71:29 ****:

Gian Carlo Menotti once wrote, “Many contemporary composers seem to fear clarity and directness, perhaps because they are afraid of becoming obvious.” It took courage for composers like Menotti and his partner, Samuel Barber, to write tonal music in the mid twentieth century when their peers were experimenting with serial and other musical styles that rejected beauty and lyricism as the essential elements of great music. This CD  of relatively unknown and attractive works deserves more attention in the concert hall.
The Violin Concerto (1952) is a virtuoso showpiece of unabashed romanticism that demonstrates the composer’s ability to integrate lyricism, drama and brilliant orchestration. The first and second movements contain at least three beautiful melodies that reflect Menotti’s operatic skills. The third movement is a joyous romp that uses a unique background of drums. Ittai Shapira plays this gorgeous work with affectionate abandon and the sound is ravishing and very well balanced.  Why don’t more violinists play this work?

The Cantilena and Scherzo for Harp and String Quartet is a luminous and melancholically beautiful composition that demonstrates how the addition of the harp to the string quartet creates a  richness and depth that makes the work sound symphonic.   The recording has a width and breadth that emphasizes this perspective. The two song cycles that conclude this disc are wistfully pensive in nature. Christine Brewer is a great operatic soprano, but the power of her voice doesn’t convey the sensitive nature of these songs. The lack of texts and translations, especially in Canti Della Lontananza (written in Italian) is the only flaw in an otherwise excellent release.

– Robert Moon
 

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