Niccolò Castiglioni
La Buranella
Altisonanza
Salmo XIX*
Teresia Bokor & Sine Bundgaard (sopranos)*

Danish National Concert Choir*

Danish National Symphony Orchestra
Gianandrea Noseda

Recorded 21 & 22 September 2012 and 18 & 19 September 2014 at DR Koncerthuset, Copenhagen
CD No: CHANDOS CHAN 10858
Duration: 63 minutes
Reviewed: August 2015

Gianandrea Noseda here continues his enterprising series for Chandos devoted to twentieth-century Italian music with this disc of Niccolò Castiglioni (1932-96), whose singular approach to composing in the aftermath of the European avant-garde has attracted increasing attention since his death.

Although it might seem odd to include an ostensibly non-original piece, La Buranella (1990) in fact provides an enticing introduction to Castiglioni’s mature idiom. Much more than the mere transcription of harpsichord sonatas by Venetian composer Baldassarre Galuppi (1706-85), this suite takes its place in a significant lineage which stretches back via Dallapiccola to Stravinsky. Thus while the intrinsic content of each Sonata is adhered to (not least their four-part A-A-B-B structure), the texture unfolds as a sequence of kaleidoscopic exchanges that makes resourceful usage of orchestral forces in which tuned percussion frequently carry the motivic thread. The result is an imaginative amalgam of Stravinskian clarity and Webernian subtlety, which intrigues and diverts to a degree that both composers would have appreciated.

From here it is by no means a radical step to the sound-world of Altisonanza (1992) and its discreet integration of a pointillist texture with a melodic linearity which has its roots firmly in the Italian madrigal tradition. Such is evident in ‘Entrée’ that proceeds as the continuous process of verses and refrains which are characterised by timbral shading as much as motivic consistency. The ensuing ‘Sarabanda’ is a brief interlude whose ideas are presently enfolded into silence – in direct contrast to the ‘Perigordino’ with its oblique variations on the dance rhythm of that name, and which brings the most diverse contrasts (not least the quicksilver fugal texture that emerges towards mid-point) before it finally disappears beyond earshot. If not Castiglioni’s finest work, this is undoubtedly among his most striking and representative.

As, indeed, is Salmo XIX (1980) – the setting of which rounds off this programme and for which printed text and translations are included. Arguably its most arresting feature is the degree to which Castiglioni has embodied the sentiments of the text via a (nominally) sectional formal scheme that, over much of its length, juxtaposes female and male voices – two solo sopranos adding their ethereal tinge – before combining them in climactic statements such as are ultimately dispersed towards a tenuous resolution. The late choral works of Stravinsky may be a pervasive influence, though there is a relative absence here of asceticism – the Italian composer preferring to clothe his music with soft-focus textures whose follow-through is underpinned less by dynamic contrast than by deftly applied tempo changes, in a personal treatment of this otherwise unremarkable Psalm text.

This latter work is enhanced by the eloquent contribution of its soloists, along with that of the Danish National Concert Choir. Nor is the Danish National Symphony Orchestra at all fazed by music with which it is unlikely to have been familiar, the musicians clearly relishing the idiosyncrasies of Castiglioni’s thinking. Spaciously recorded with no lack of detail, and with a detailed booklet note, these three works – alternative versions of which are not easily obtainable – constitute a persuasive introduction to a singular compositional voice from the post-war era.

 

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