Dialoghi for Cello and Orchestra
Quattro Liriche di Antonio Machado
Three Questions with Two Answers
Paul Watkins (cello)
Gillian Keith (soprano)
Recorded 16 January & 15 April 2009 in Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester
Reviewed by: David Wordsworth
Reviewed: February 2010
CD No: CHANDOS CHAN 10561
Duration: 67 minutes
In a musical world obsessed with anniversaries of one sort or another, the centenary of the birth of Luigi Dallapiccola (1904-1975) seemed to go pretty much ignored. He still seems to be regarded as if not a minor figure, then as a “composer’s composer” – someone to be admired by specialists! Thankfully Gianandrea Noseda seems to think otherwise and he continues his admirable series of Chandos discs of music by twentieth-century Italian composers with a second disc devoted to Dallapiccola, featuring major works from either end of his composing career.
The early and little known Partita (1932, here receiving its first recording!) betrays a rather modest title by being a significant statement, symphonic in scale, striking in structure and with a somewhat unexpected Mahlerian touch as the finale – a beguiling, but never saccharine setting of an exquisite medieval Lullaby to the Virgin Mary. All the more striking after the deeply serious tone of the opening ‘Passacaglia’ and the violence of the preceding slow movement, Dallapiccola begins his life-long love-affair with the soprano voice with a setting that is as direct as it is touching and with an accompaniment scored in the way that only a true master could. The magical coda is marked beautifully in the score as ‘Celestiale’. The BBC Philharmonic revels in the demands of this major work, but special mention should be made of the principal wind players, and Noseda paces the piece beautifully. The finale could easily sound rather like something ‘tagged on’ – but here it gives the impression of being the most natural thing in world. When can we hear this rather wonderful piece in a concert?
Dallapiccola was an erudite, well-read man (able to study widely in several languages) and so it is no surprise that vocal music plays a large part in his output – the four settings of texts by the Spanish poet Machado are tiny jewels that twist, turn and glitter (the whole set lasts less than six minutes) and which in the hands of a less than sympathetic conductor would be engulfed by their own striking intensity – but everything here is held in check, the sparse instrumental lines are precisely delivered, every gesture is made to count and Gillian Keith revels in the arching, but never ungrateful vocal lines.
The two purely orchestral works, come from later in Dallapiccola’s life, show a tougher side to the composer’s character, but are nonetheless more than worth investigating, not least when given such sympathetic performances as they are here. Paul Watkins never does anything less than throw himself whole-heartedly into whatever he plays and the perhaps somewhat elusive Dialoghi (1960) is no exception. The orchestra is large, but used sparingly, the soloist indulging in elaborate conversations with other instruments or small groups (hence the title), the colours constantly changing, nothing ever really coming to rest until the final ‘Tutto diminuendo’ – not an easy listen perhaps, but well worth the effort.
Three Questions with Two Answers (1963) may have a curious title, but at least it does exactly what it says “on the can” – written even more curiously for the New Haven Symphony Orchestra in the USA, this proved to be Dallapiccola’s final orchestral work and acts, as Calum MacDonald writes in his excellent booklet note, in much the same way as does Hindemith’s Symphony from “Mathias der Maler”. The opera in this case is Dallapiccola’s even more rarely heard operatic masterpiece “Ulisse” – some of the music being ‘tried out’ in the earlier orchestral work. On first hearing, the score might seem to be more of an ‘Unanswered Question’ (indeed the final bars are just that!), but taken as a whole the piece more than justifies the evident care lavished on it in this performance.
Maybe Dallapiccola doesn’t give his secrets away easily – but why should that be a problem? – especially in a recording such as this, which I cannot imagine will be bettered.