DALLAPICCOLA: Sonatina canonica / Tartiniana seconda (Duccio Ceccanti/ Roberto Prosseda) (Naxos: 8.557676)
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Luigi Dallapiccola (1904-1975):
Complete Works for Violin and Piano, and for Piano
The centenary of the birth of Luigi Dallapiccolaprompted something of a reassessment of the Italiancomposer whose reputation, in the three decades sincehis death, has been accorded passive respect rather thanactive promotion. The relatively limited extent of hisoutput, some four dozen works, is belied by its diversityof expression, though following such powerful wartimeworks as Canti di prigionia (1941) and the operaIl prigioniero (1948), Dallapiccola's music tends to thecontemplative and philosophic, qualities for which hismagnum opus, the opera Ulisse, was roundly criticizedat its Berlin premi?¿re in 1968. Yet his questing approachto composition meant that there are few, if any,unimportant or minor pieces, and, while his instrumentalworks are neither especially numerous nor large-scalein design or ambition, they do provide an illuminatingperspective on his musical thinking as a whole.
Although his earliest extant compositions datefrom his eighteenth year, Dallapiccola was a relativelyslow developer who published nothing substantial untilthe Partita of 1932. Perhaps not surprisingly for acomposer from Southern Europe (his formative yearswere directly affected by being born in the disputedregion which, initially part of the Austrian Empire, wasabsorbed by Italy in 1918), vocal music dominated hiscreativity from the beginning. His earliest publishedinstrumental piece is the three-part cycle Inni, writtenin 1935. Subtitled 'Musica per tre pianoforti', whichindicates its highly unusual scoring (though moderntechnology allows the work, as here, to be recorded andthen multi-tracked by a single pianist), it opens withsomething akin to a stylized Baroque prelude such asRavel might have essayed, proceeding to a sombrepiece whose funereal manner is checked by a constantlyshifting rhythmic emphasis and a graduallyaccumulating momentum. The final movement pursuesan intensive if understated dialogue between the threeinstruments, culminating in a decisive final gesture.
Dallapiccola did not essay a work for solo pianountil 1942-3, when he composed the Sonata canonicaafter solo violin Caprices by Nicol?? Paganini, therebypaying homage both to an earlier age of Italian music,and also the contrapuntal techniques of the Renaissanceand Baroque eras which exerted a profound influenceon his later compositions. The first movement begins asa gently intricate study, before a livelier music emergesin contrast, with the initial material briefly returning asbefore. The second movement frames a dance-like ideawith overtly rhetorical flourishes, while the third is apensive and harmonically subtle treatment of one ofPaganini's most winsome melodies. The march-likefourth movement then rounds off the work in a goodhumouredand appropriately capricious fashion.
At the same time he composed the above work,Dallapiccola was also engaged on a ballet score forVenice. Marsia, to a scenario by Aurel Miloss, drawson the Greek legend in which the satyr and flautistMarsyas challenges Apollo to a contest of skill. He isoutwitted then flayed alive by the god, while the tearsof the mourners become a river bearing Marsyas'sname. The success of its first performance at La Fenicein September 1948 prompted the composer to arrangeportions of the ballet for concert use - hence theFrammenti sinfonici for orchestra of 1948, and the Treepisodi for piano of 1949. The latter is so compiled asto make an effective slow-fast-slow format away fromthe ballet's directly descriptive concerns. It begins withAngoscioso, a moody study whose undemonstrativevirtuosity infers the more impressionist piano writing ofDebussy and Ravel, building to a brief but stridentclimax before the sombre close. Ostinato, dominated byrapid repeated-note sequences, suggests earlyProkofiev in its scintillating brilliance and dynamicrange. Sereno, by turns stark and lyrical, and shotthrough with an acute poignancy, brings the sequenceto a quiet though not necessarily calm conclusion.
The protracted composition of Il prigioniero gaverise to several smaller works, not the least of which isDue studi for violin and piano. Its genesis lies in musicfor a documentary by Luigi Magnani on the life of Pierodella Francesca which never materialised, and whichDallapiccola then reworked directly to fulfil acommission from the Basle branch of the InternationalSociety for Contemporary Music in 1947 (the pieceswere themselves revised as Due pezzi for orchestra thesame year). Not that the original subject-matter wasdiscounted: the chaste and ruminative Sarabanda drawson the white shadings dominant in the painting of theQueen of Sheba's procession, while the fierce andangular Fanfara e Fuga evokes the red colouring in thedepiction of the death of Cosroe, King of Persia.
In 1952 Dallapiccola wrote what is perhaps themost purely attractive of his instrumental works.
Quaderno musicale di Annalibera (orchestrated twoyears later as Variazioni) is dedicated to the composer'sdaughter on the occasion of her eighth birthday, hername being a consequence of having being born in thewake of Florence's liberation from German occupation.
The relaxed and engaging nature of the music beliesits very strict technical apparatus, one embodying boththe twelve-note serial thinking that the composer hadabsorbed over the preceding decade, and a directhomage to Bach. A transcription of his initials,B flat - A - C - B natural, is given at the opening of thefirst piece, Simbolo, in which serial and tonal elementscombine in a prelude of thoughtful anticipation, perhapsthe nearest Dallapiccola came to evoking the spare latemanner of Busoni. The brusque manner of Accenti leadsdirectly into the elegant canon of Contrapunctusprimus, then the limpid melodic flow of Linee similarlyprecedes the playful Contrapunctus secundus. Fregi hasthe feel of a nocturne, while Andantino amoroso eContrapunctus tertius has a melodic line playedforwards as well as backwards. The playful Ritmi isfollowed by the sensuous Colore, then the stark Ombre,before Quartina rounds off the suite expressively muchas it began.
The latest work here underlines Dallapiccola'sinvolvement with the Italian baroque, specifically thecomposer Giuseppe Tartini, with whom he shared afascination for contrapuntal techniques such as thepresent work brings out in full measure. Havingproduced the divertissement Tartiniana, derived frommovements of unpublished violin concertos, in 1951,Dallapiccola wrote a Tartiniana seconda during 1955-6.
First heard in violin and piano scoring, it was promptlyorchestrated, with the addition of a brief Intermezzo.
Both pieces differ from the Baroque and Classicalrealisations of the previous Italian generation inavoiding pastiche, as Dallapiccola was concerned notwith evoking a past era, but in what relevance its musichad for the present. The work opens with a keenlyexpressive Pastorale which evokes a mood of gracefulyearning, and is followed by the rhythmically muscularTempo di Bourree, then the airily virtuosic Presto;leggerissimo. The final, longest movement was also thefirst to be written (as an 'Improvisation after Tartini'),Variazioni unfolding as a sequence of contrastedvariants on the commanding theme announced at theoutset.Richard Whitehouse