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Ildebrando PIZZETTI (1880-1968)
Symphony in A (1940) [43:21]
Harp Concerto (1958, 1960) [21:33]
Margherita Bassani (harp)
Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale/Damian Iorio
rec. Auditorium RAI Arturo Toscanini, Turin Italy, 23-26 Sept 2015
NAXOS 8.573613 [65:14]

Pizzetti's only symphony shares a point of origin with Britten's Sinfonia da Requiem. It was commissioned by the Japanese Imperial government to play its part in marking the 2600th anniversary of the accession of the island chain's first Emperor. Another work with the same provenance is Richard Strauss's Japanese Festival Music. The Pizzetti and Strauss appear to have been acceptable to the commissioning government while the Britten - with its Requiem movement titles - was not.

The Pizzetti Symphony is in four movements. There are two large outward-facing statements riven with discontent and conflict. These are in keeping with the spirit of the times. They buttress two substantial but shorter inner movements. The music is tense and charged with foreboding but there's little to be heard in the way of victory: no braggadocio and no victors' swagger.

The first movement breathes turbulence and tension. It has a touch of Vaughan Williams' Fourth Symphony about it. The word Concitato (agitated) appears in two of the movement titles and is a true indicator. The music is certainly not dissonant. It is athletic, full-sounding and not at all neo-classical. An occasional fleck of hope relieves the storm-clouds. Muted fanfares are part of the scenery but a darker message is barked out at 8:50. An anomalously tender serenade can be heard at 10:00 but tumbling fury meets valour in trumpet fanfares at 12:10. After this an exhaustion-induced gentle answer turns away anger. The music takes on an ecclesiastical note before a stuttered protest.

The second movement is an Andante tranquillo which picks up on the singing 'churchy' aspect of the previous movement. There are some trudging interventions but these are mixed with whispered violins giving the impression of high alpine pastures.

Next follows a playful, light-textured Rapido which is the shortest of the four movements. The lighter message remains stippled with anxiety in keeping with the work's overall mood. This continues in dominance. Even so we get moments of true exultation for first time at 2:48.

The last movement runs to 13:50. It starts as another Andante, as did the first. The mood is heavily suppressed but soon an understated march enters with angular glassy writing for romantic strings which seem to aspire to the light. More turbulence is on the menu at 9:00 and violence confronts the high mountain pastures. Something approaching a confident strut surfaces but gradually atomises. The Symphony ends with that same reverent ecclesiastical glow. It's almost Mahlerian - but Pizzetti is not about to give us an ending in bombast. Instead serenity hangs over the Symphony's last moments.

The Symphony was premiered in Tokyo in December 1940 with conductor Gaetano Comelli. It seems that a recording was made by Japanese Columbia. On 78s it must have been a weighty tome of an album given the score's duration.

Written twenty years later, Pizzetti's Harp Concerto is in three movements. Written for one of Italy's leading harpists, Clelia Gatti Aldrovandi (1901-1989), it is launched by a smilingly warm, even sybaritic, Andante. The aural palette is cleanly weighted with the redolence of Ravel's Introduction and Allegro sweeping in. A calming blessing of a work, this extends into the placid blossom-hung second movement although there are some shivers, tremors and grey clouds. The finale is a lively Allegro moderato but this too draws breath to absorb the views (2:20). It reminded me a little of Alwyn's Lyra Angelica but the Pizzetti is lower key although summery enough. The finale carries a few wintry flurries.

The Naxos Italian orchestral series continues to push out the boundaries of appreciation of Italian music. The whole thing is a joint venture with RAI.

Across seven pages the liner-essay is one of the label's best and its range of reference is widely cast by David Gallagher. It is in English only. Gallagher explores the symphony's Japanese connection and other commissions of the time.

The recording quality, without being overly glamorous, splendidly serves the music and these fine committed performances. This is unusual, provocative and satisfying music owing a debt to Naxos for allowing it to step out into the open air.

Rob Barnett



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