Italian Festival (Leos Komarek/ Ondrej Lenard/ Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.550087)
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Jules Massenet (1842 - 1912)
Suite No.5: Sc?¿nes napolitaines
La procession et L'improvisateur
Benjamin Godard (1849 - 1895)
Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809 - 1847)
Franz Liszt (1809 - 1886)
Ruggiero Leoncavallo (1857 - 1919)
Cesar Cui (1853 - 1918)
Gustave Charpentier (1860 - 1956)
Impressions d'ltalie (No.5 Naples)
Charles Gounod (1818 - 1893)
Luigi Denza (1846 - 1922)
With two exceptions the musical pictures ofItaly included in the Italian Festival are the work of foreigners who foundfascination and inspiration in the country. Jules Massenet, the son of a manwho made his fortune in the manufacture of scythes and later lost much of it,captures the magic of the Italian dance, Italian opera and drama, and religiouslife in the three scenes from Naples that form his fifth orchestral suite,written in 1876. His victory in the Prix de Rome in Paris in 1863, brought himopportunity to travel in Italy, of which he and his companions took advantage.
The stay in Italy brought the first of his orchestral suites, Pompeia, of obvious enough provenance. TheNeapolitan scenes were the product of the next decade, written at the outset ofhis successful career as a composer of opera and exhibiting the markedtechnical skill he always possessed, his deft handling of the orchestra andfacility in melodic invention.
Benjamin Godard, a Parisian by birth, failedto win that mark of official French approval, the Prix de Rome, but won himselfan early reputation as a composer of salon music and as a viola-player ofdistinction. As a composer his talent was for lighter music, and attempts atanything more weighty were not entirely successful. The three Italian scenesinclude a Florentine serenade, a delicately elegant version of the traditionalshepherd dance of Sicily, long adopted into Northern European instrumentalrepertoire, and the frenetic Neapolitan dance, the Tarantella.
A precocious child of rich parents, FelixMendelssohn completed his education with a Grand Tour, spending months inItaly, where he was able to write his evocative Italian Symphony, while working on another travel symphonyinspired by Scotland, a country he had visited the year before his stay inItaly. The Gondolier's Song isarranged for orchestra from one of the popular Songswithout Words, piano pieces of original conception, with theminiature perfection of songs, but relying on the more abstract art of musicalone.
Franz Liszt, atrue cosmopolitan, was born in Hungary, moved to Vienna, and then to Paris,which remained his home through adolescence, when he was not travelling as avirtuoso pianist. A liaison with a married woman set him on years of travel-years of pilgrimage, he was to call them - and above all to Italy. Here hefound inspiration, if not in his mistress, whom he was later to send back toParis, in the poems of Petrarch,the pictures of Salvatore Rosa, the buildings and fountains, and, as here, inthe wild dance of Naples, the Tarantella, the final section of Venezia e Napoli, originally a compositionfor piano solo. In old age he was to return to Italy on a very real pilgrimage,devoting himself very largely to the study of the music of the Church, takingminor orders and living a relatively comfortable monastic life, interspersedwith travel back to Weimar and to Hungary.
Mattinata, a song by theItalian composer Ruggiero Leoncavallo, with words by the composer, was writtenin 1904 for Caruso and the G & T recording company. This and the opera I Pagliacci are the two significantsuccesses of an uneven career, and by these compositions he is chieflyremembered. Pagliacci was writtenin an effort to outmatch Mascagni's CavalleriaRusticana. For subsequent generations Cav and Pag have served asSiamese twins of the operatic repertoire.
Russian composers were among those who foundinterest in Italy. Tchaikovsky, captivated by the charms of a street-singer,wrote his Capriccio Italien inmemory of his experiences there, while Cesar Cui, a professor of militaryengineering who detested the un-Russian tendencies of Tchaikovsy, turned toNaples in 1859, the year of his operetta The Mandarin's Son, for his orchestralTarantelle.
TheImpressions d'ltalie of Gustave Charpentier return us to France. He studiedcomposition with Massenet, after dismissal from the Paris Conservatoire afterdisagreements with Massart, his violin-teacher, but won the Prix de Rome in1887 and during intermittent periods of compulsory residence at the VillaMedici, in partial compliance with the terms of the award, he conceived hisImpressions of Italy, the whole work a five-movement symphonic suite, ending,as such suites had to, with a visit to Naples.
The Grand Prix de Rome fell to Charles Gounodin 1839, and in the Eternal City the young French composer came under the spellof Palestrina. His own church music, pervasively influential in his time, wasto take on a very different hue. A prolific composer, he wrote his masterpieceFaust in 1859, provided a wealth of church music and song sacred and secular,while exercising a strong influence over the following generation of Frenchcomposers. His Saltarello wasapparently written in 1865, an imaginative version of an Italian dance that hasmuch in common with the Tarantella in rhythm and movement.
Funiculi,funicula, is by Luigi Denza, in later life a professor ofsinging at the Royal Academy of Music in London, after his own earliereducation and career in Naples, where he wrote an opera on Schiller's Wallenstein. The song, one of 500 odd thatDenza wrote, achieved in his own time the reputation of a folk-song, and assuch was used by Richard Strauss in his own evocation of Italy, Aus Italien,and was orchestrated by the Russian Rimsky-Korsakov.
Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava)
The Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra(Bratislava), the oldest symphonic ensemble in Slovakia, was founded in 1929 atthe instance of Milos Ruppeldt and Oskar Nedbal, prominent personalities in thesphere of music. The orchestra was first conducted by the Prague conductorFrantisek Dyk and in the course of the past fifty years of its existence hasworked under the batons of several prominent Czech and Slovak conductors.
Ondrej Lenard was appointed its conductor in 1970 and in 1977 itsconductor-in-chief. The orchestra has recently given a number of successfulconcerts both at home and abroad, in West and East Germany, Russia, Bulgaria,Denmark, France, Spain, Italy, and Great Britain.
Ondrej Lenard was born in 1942 and had hisearly training in Bratislava, where, at the age of 17, he entered the Academyof Music and Drama, to study under Ludovit Rajter. His graduation concert in 1964was given with the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra and during his two years ofmilitary service he conducted the Army Orchestral Ensemble, later renewing anearlier connection with the Slovak National Opera, where he has