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CD Review

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco

Violin Concertos

  • Concerto Italiano for Violin & Orchestra, Op. 31
  • Concerto for Violin & Orchestra #2 "The Prophets", Op. 66
Tianwa Yang, violin
SWR Symphony Orchestra, Baden Baden & Freiburg/Pieter-Jelle de Boer
Naxos 20th Century Italian Classics 8.573135 63:05
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Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco curiously appears in both Naxos' American Classics series, as well as this series devoted to modern Italian music. In this particular instance, the duplication is understandable; like many composers of his era, he became an American citizen later in life and wrote for film and the stage. These works predate his American period, and are expertly crafted and very cinematic violin concertos.

Receiving what is likely its first recording, the Concerto Italiano of 1924 is a beautiful piece of music that deserves to be heard again. Tianwa Yang won praise for her coupling of Mendelssohn's concertos for the same label, and here she pads her resume with a committed and exciting performance. It sounds like a much older work than it is in places, which the liner notes assure us is intentional. Indeed, the composer wished to work with the violin style of the 17th and 18th centuries. While both the notes and jewel case claim the work is "transparently scored", I'm not sure what they mean in either case. Sure, the soloist is always audible, but it's not like this isn't a big orchestra that's playing. In fact, there are times where the composer's later film writing – to say nothing of his own "Jewish music" – is foreshadowed.

While not a staple in the concert hall, the Violin Concerto #2 of 1931 enjoys a wider appreciation from prominent violinists. Both Heifetz and Perlman enjoyed and recorded the work. It's not hard to hear why. Each movement is based on a Hebrew prophet, and there is great richness and a sense of grandeur throughout. Tianwa Yang lacks only the name recognition of the aforementioned virtuosos, for she plays magnificently and is also well recorded. I've said nothing to this point about the SWR forces. While not terrible, the orchestral support in both works needs just that extra ounce of passion. The strings bloom nicely, and the woodwinds glow as they must, but one wishes for just a little more heat. This is especially true in the latter concerto, which is the Italian equivalent of China's "Butterfly Lovers". You just want a little more Hollywood. For Yang alone, and for the chance to hear two unjustly neglected concertos, this is still very much worth a listen.

Copyright © 2015, Brian Wigman