Amilcare Ponchielli (1834-1886) is one of those composers whose fame rests on just one work; in Ponchielli's case, the opera "La Gioconda", but listening to this disc will surely bring you to the conclusion that this is a totally misguided perception. Born of humble stock – his father was a village grocer and part-time organist – he began to compose as soon as he was able to hold a pen. By the time he was nine he was nicknamed "the little genius' and everything was pointing to a brilliant career. But fate had otherwise in store. The operas he wrote were nothing more than provincial successes, and a shady impresario cheated him out of his money. Naïve and introverted yet good-natured, he had to suffer the ignominy of plying his trade as a wind band conductor and provincial organist for many years, until "La Gioconda" took the music world by storm. Fame, money, a professorship and a beautiful "prima donna' as wife followed, but this success was short-lived. He died from pneumonia after travelling in an unheated train in 1886 aged only 52.
Although Ponchielli is strongly connected to the opera world, he also wrote a number of wind concertos which are considered to be among the most virtuosic of the romantic era. The five works on this issue all display the composer's penchant for the voice, and many are the instances when breathtaking coloraturas, dazzling "stretta' effects and tonal versatility are at the forefront of Ponchielli's demands. The Euphonium Concerto is a particularly attractive piece, but the rest of the programme is also crammed with catchy tunes and huge pyrotechnical virtuosity that immerse the listener into the very heart of this spellbinding "festa d'allegria.' Performances are absolutely arresting, and all three soloists are on top form, each vying to produce the perfect sound from their respective instruments. A peach of an issue full of bouncy and playful moments that should entice the many fans, especially those addicted to the operatic genre.
Copyright © 2011, Gerald Fenech