It was back in 2007 that my friend Alistair Jameson showed me his
completed Ph.D. which took as its subject the eight Concertos for
Orchestra by Goffredo Petrassi. These were, in large part, composed
in the thirty years after the Second World War. He kindly lent me
the recordings (review
and scores for a while. I was fascinated by the sheer variety of styles
and the eclecticism of the man; not to mention the brilliance of the
orchestration and fecundity of Petrassi’s ideas.
In this recording Chandos, who are exploring this composer for the
first time, present two works for chorus and orchestra. These pre-date
the war and, although they signpost the later music are not entirely
typical. Nevertheless they are worth hearing, at times dramatic, and
also very beautiful and sensitive.
is scored for a conventional orchestra
with a soprano solo and chorus. It splits the text into thirteen well
contrasted sections divided between the soloist and the chorus interspersed
with orchestral interludes. The stylistic influences are certainly
Stravinsky in the rhythms especially at the start. I was also reminded
of Malipiero in the sunny but complex counterpoint. There were even
times when, bearing in mind Petrassi’s choirboy training in
16th Century polyphony in Rome, the music of Palestrina and Josquin
came to the fore. Listen especially to track 8: the ‘et sanctum
nomen ejus’ for both of these traits. All this is there to be
heard despite the fact - highlighted in the excellent booklet essay
by Enzo Restagno - that the composer admitted that his “old-style
musical education … was soon forgotten and had become lodged
in some deep recess of his memory.” Speaking of counterpoint,
listen to track 12, the ‘Sicut locutus est’. This is a
rather strong fugue which because it is so powerful means that the
Gloria which follows is less significant; indeed it rather peters
out leaving one unsure whether to applaud or not.
The composer specifically asks for what he calls a ‘soprano
leggero’ (a light soprano). My impression is that Sabina Cvilak,
gorgeous as she is, is more of a mezzo. She is taxed at times by the
upper register and the effect can feel rather heavy. In addition I
find her words lack clarity. She is not my idea of a suitable singer
for this music. The chorus however rise the occasion well although
I can’t help but feel that they occasionally lack appropriate
The other piece comes off much better however both chorally and orchestrally.
It is a fine performance all-round. I found Petrassi’s setting
of Psalm IX
fascinating and at times, especially in its opening
three minutes, quite exhilarating. At other moments, for example in
the ‘Et sperent in te qui noverunt’ it is also quite beautiful.
The scoring is for chorus, string orchestra, brass and percussion.
The composer is quoted in the booklet as darkly admitting, “this
was the first work to arouse my consciousness of the childhood traumas”
- in the Schola Cantorum where he had been choirboy - “of which
I had to rid myself.” Indeed the music is passionate, and at
times disturbing. It is as if it is trying to express the inexpressible.
Renaissance polyphony is thrown off and Stravinsky is to the fore.
The composer admits to admiring Oedipus Rex
when he first encountered
it in 1934 and that he was also “led back” to the Symphony
. The latter is famous for not including strings but
then Oedipus only had a string quintet. The Symphony is most noticeably
an inspiration at the beginning of the second part of the Psalm setting.
Petrassi divides the text into two distinct sections. Chandos have
helpfully placed nine dividing tracks for each part which is an aid
to keep in touch with where you are as the chorus words are not always
clear. In addition the words in the second part are a hymn of praise
like the Stravinsky movement three, ”Sing Praises unto the Lord
which dwelled in Zion / declare among the people his doings / …
I will rejoice in thy salvation”. There is some vigorous choral
writing and brass fanfares, rushing scales and ‘chugging’
figures to keep the impetus going. Noseda brings out the drama and
strength of this piece with much authority.
I have already mentioned the excellent accompanying essay. All the
sung texts are given and clearly translated. There are also rehearsal
and session photographs demonstrating what a vast group was assembled
for this project. The recording is almost faultless and the Psalm
especially has grown on me. The open-minded will find much to reward
their investment in this disc.
See also review by Hubert