Casella
Concerto for Orchestra, Op.61
A notte alta, Op.30
La donna serpente, Op.50 – Symphonic Fragments
Martin Roscoe (piano)

BBC Philharmonic
Gianandrea Noseda

Recorded 5 August and 22 & 23 November 2011 in MediaCity UK, Salford, England
CD No: CHANDOS CHAN 10712
Duration: 73 minutes
Reviewed: May 2012
This second volume from Chandos of Alfred Casella’s music is very welcome. Very! Turin-born Casella (1883-1947) studied alongside Enesco and Ravel at the Paris Conservatoire and met Mahler in that city in 1909. Casella was well connected. His Concerto for Orchestra was written in 1937 for the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra and Willem Mengelberg to celebrate the ensemble’s 50th-anniversary. It’s a terrific piece, amazingly recorded here for the first time, festive and lyrical, ebullient and colourful, and sustains interest across its three-movement, 27-minute course through wit, depth of feeling and variety. As befits the genre, and the calibre of the work’s original recipients, Casella’s orchestration is superb, often beguiling. This first recorded outing makes the strongest possible case for a substantial and inventive work
A notte alta (1917/21), is a set of five vignettes, playing continuously, originally composed for solo piano and later orchestrated. The invention is very evocative, compelling in its delicacy and haunted atmosphere – and from the heart, a musical inscription of Casella’s affair with Yvonne Müller who would become his second wife. The opening movement, dark and sinewy, is gripping, the following segments full of nocturnal tension as the lovers liaise, the orchestra suggesting things heard but not seen. Martin Roscoe is a sympathetic soloist with a confessional touch.
La donna serpente (1932, The Serpent Woman) is based on Gogol’s story, Casella likening his opera to Mozart's Die Zauberflöte because of similarities in magic, comic and heroic elements. The composer extracted two orchestral ‘Series’, dedicating the first to Fritz Reiner and the second to Bernardino Molinari. Both are presented here. The music is enchanting, scenic, lively and unfailingly attractive.
Suffice to say that the performances are labours of love; and having expressed a few sonic reservations about Chandos’s contemporaneous Elgar release (link below) recorded in this same venue, it’s heartening to now report that this later-made issue sounds quite superb, that bit warmer, with wonderful tangibility, and perspective and clarity in perfect accord.

 

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