GOFFREDO PETRASSI: Coro di morti; Quattro inni sacri; Partita for orchestra; Noche oscura – Giorgio Berrugi, tenor/ Vasily Ladyuk, baritone/ Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Regio Torino/ Gianandrea Noseda – Chandos CHSA 10840, 69:29 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

Goffredo Petrassi (16 July 1904 – 3 March 2003) is not a name known to too many people nowadays, but he is widely considered one of the most influential Italian composers of the last century. Born at Zagarolo, near Rome, and was attracted to music at a very early age. After studies at the Santa Cecilia Conservatory in Rome (organ and composition), he scored his first big “hit” with Partita, conducted by Alfred Casella. His career expanded into conducting, particularly opera, and he was musical director of La Fenice, later teaching at the Santa Cecilia Conservatory and at the Salzburg Mozarteum. His interests and influences stemmed from the music of Bartok, and especially Stravinsky, as the latter migrated towards serialism later in life. He had many students, curiously as varied as Ennio Morricone, Eric Salzman, and Peter Maxwell Davies.

This is the second album by Noseda and his sterling Italian forces dedicated to Petrassi’s music, and it is in all ways outstanding. Partita is included, a riveting rhythmical knockout of a score that shows the Stravinskian shadow looming large. Coro di morti is one of the composer’s greatest, if oddest, compositions, with Petrassi visiting the world of Palestrina and Monteverdi in a Giacomo Leopardi poem speaking of the ever-present effect of death among those living and departed, and the absence of happiness here or after. It makes quite a contrast to the flip side of Petrassi’s interests, which are actually more inclined towards traditional Christian sentiments, as found in the Four Sacred Hymns, a piece for male voices (tenor and baritone) and orchestra, from 1950. The climate is more affirmative and joyous, though the harmonic language definitely thicker and richer. The four movements are from Bernard of Clairvaux (“Jesus, the sweet memory”), unknown “To Thee, before the light fades”), Gregory the Great (“Sublime creator of the light”), and another unknown (“Hail, wounds of Christ”).

Finally, the cantata Noche oscura (Dark Night) takes the hothouse imagery from Biblical books like the Song of Songs transformed into a pseudo-erotic, highly-evocative poem of the Lord as lover, by John of the Cross. Petrassi’s imagination is full-blown here; with music of unstoppable power and subtle inventiveness that reflects even the most esoteric of St. John’s poetry.

The sound is superb and the orchestra plays brilliantly. Petrassi does not deserve the obscurity into which he has fallen; help pull him out.

—Steven Ritter