Concerto italiano, Op.31* (1924) [31.38]
Violin Concerto No. 2, Op.66 (1931) I Profeti [31.27]
Tianwa Yang (violin)
SWR Symphony Orchestra, Baden Baden and Freiburg/Pieter-Jelle de Boer
rec. Rolf Böhme Saal, Konzerthaus, Freiburg, Germany, 2012
*world première recording
NAXOS 8.573135 [59.54]
While the Second Violin Concerto by Castelnuovo-Tedesco is familiar from the recording made by Jascha Heifetz, who gave the first performance and to whom the work is dedicated, this disc also offers the first concerto in the shape of the Concerto italiano. Although the latter was also espoused by Heifetz it has never been previously recorded. The coupling seems logical and it is surprising that nobody has seen fit to undertake it previously.

Having said which, the Concerto italiano is a pleasant piece of neo-classicism which lacks the sheer sense of passionate exploration which the listener finds in I Profeti. The classical influence is clearly Vivaldi rather than Bach as espoused by the more northerly practitioners of the style. The concerto bubbles along pleasantly, developing quite a romantic atmosphere which at times recalls Respighi. It is a most enjoyable listen, and does not deserve total neglect but it is not a lost masterpiece. Nonetheless we should be grateful to Naxos for providing this interesting coupling and the music will be enjoyed by more than just Castelnuovo-Tedesco fans. Naxos have already done proud by them, issuing among other extreme rarities two discs of the extraordinarily interesting Shakespearean tone poems (Volume 1 ~ Volume 2), one of the extensive piano cycle Evangélion which I reviewed last year, and another one of the composer’s songs (Marco Polo 8.223729). All of these are well worth exploration, and I am sure that there are plenty more worthwhile scores where these came from.

The second concerto, with its subtitle I Profeti referring to various Old Testament prophets, is however a major work in its own right which deserves much wider circulation. The music surges and throbs with a romantic passion which recalls Bloch’s Schelomo in its general mood. The fact that the idiom was subsequently taken up with enthusiasm by the composers of Hollywood Biblical epics makes the results nonetheless exciting. The very opening conjures up a sense of mystery, but the music encompasses a wide range of moods including elements which sound almost like folksong — as in the first movement at 5.05. The whirlwind finale is perhaps too light-hearted as a portrait of the tempestuous and curmudgeonly Elijah, but in purely musical terms it is a delight; and the slow Jeremiah movement has a real sense of engagement with its mournful subject.

The performances, excellently played by both soloist (Tianwa Yang fresh from her Sarasate series) and orchestra, need not fear invidious comparisons with Heifetz; and they are much better recorded, with a more natural perspective. The Heifetz recording remains in the catalogue — it has tended to come and go over the years. There are three others currently listed including one taken from a live performance by Itzhak Perlman - reviewed by Rob Barnett for this site. All these are differently coupled with works by other Italian or Israeli composers, and the interest of a potential purchaser may well be influenced by these. The chance to hear both of the Castelnuovo-Tedesco concertos on a single disc — unique to this issue — makes an irresistible bargain for those who wish to explore the output of a composer whose music consists of much more than the various guitar pieces for which he is generally known.

Paul Corfield Godfrey

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