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CD Review

Luigi Dallapiccola

Complete Songs

  • Selve amiche 3
  • Vittoria, mio cuore 4
  • Lasciatemi morire 3
  • Già il sole dal gange 2
  • Udite, amanti 4
  • Sospiri di foco 3
  • Belle rose purpurine 2
  • Bella porta di rubini 3
  • Monologo del "tempo" 4
  • Vergin, tutto amor 3
  • Caro mio ben 3
  • Sfogava con le stele 3
  • Nel puro ardour 4
  • Di misera Regina from "Il ritorno di Ulisse in patria" 3
  • Sento nel core 3
  • Rencesvals, trois fragments de "La chanson de Roland" 4
  • Amarilli in G Minor 3
  • Che fiero costume 3
  • Danza fanciulla gentile 4
  • Occhi immortali 2
  • Son ancor pargoletta 2
  • O cessate di piagarmi 3
  • Se nel ben sempre incostante 3
  • Occhietti amati 4
  • Toglietemi la vita ancor 4
  • Caldi sospiri 4
  • Sonetto spirituale (Maddalena alla croce) 3
  • Sonetto spirituale in stile recitativo 2
  • Illustratevi, o cieli (from "Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria") 3
  • Vado ben spesso cangiando loco 4
  • Gioite al canto mio (from "Euridice") 4
  • Quattro liriche di Antonio Machado 1
1 Alda Caiello, soprano
2 Monica Piccinini, soprano
3 Elisabetta Pallucchi, mezzo-soprano
4 Roberto Abbondanza, baritone
Filippo Farinelli, piano
Brilliant Classics BRI95202 2CDs 91:38
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Luigi Dallapiccola lived from 1904 to 1975 and wrote perhaps the most lyrical twelve-tone compositions of the trio of twentieth-century Italian composers that also included Berio and Nono. Indeed, the first extant of Dallapiccola's compositions were for voice and piano – although he suppressed them.

It would be almost inconceivable that an Italian composer could operate in a vacuum, so rich is the musical heritage of that culture. Thus it is that Dallapiccola drew on the music of Renaissance madrigalists, Monteverdi and his contemporaries for the bulk of the songs collected here. Indeed, of them all only the Rencesvals and Quattro liriche di Antonio Machado are entirely his own, original, work. The rest are effectively arrangements, realisations or re-interpretations of earlier works. This means that most of the items here are likely to be familiar to many listeners. Frankly, this makes their greatest value that of greater historical curiosity than songs entirely in their own right.

Potentially, though, this fact provides insight into Dallapiccola's preoccupations of melody, shifting tonality (Monteverdi's chromaticism sits well in a world where tonality was being, at least, "re-examined" by composers in these years), meticulous paring of harmony and melodic line to its essence… a major aspect of works like Il Prigioniero. In some ways Dallapiccola's work sought to share the sparseness of Berg or Webern, whom he admired.

As the second CD wears on, some of the more original and non-tonal pieces make a contrast – the Quattro liriche di Antonio Machado, in particular. Yet there is a violence and adventurousness in Dallapiccola's writing which is not really matched by the style of singing – contained and somewhat prim – of the singers. As is the case with all the songs here, though, Filippo Farinelli piano playing is sensitive and supportive. It's hard not to think that there must have been times when he wanted to nudge the vocalists slightly towards a less formal, more genuine, or even more abandoned approach (certainly a more genuinely expressive one) to Dallapiccola's love of life. If only the singers would gaze upwards a little – and not lose their vision in the older scores. But, good accompanist, he resists.

In fact, these performances substantially lack the depth and reserve, the awareness of their inherent intensity really to lend them the necessary impact. Too often the singers (two sopranos, mezzo and baritone) approach the delivery of the songs in an almost perfunctory manner; they lack both soul and precision. Their articulation is neither distinguished nor sufficiently filled with color or style. The works for lower registers are taken by Elisabetta Pallucchi and Roberto Abbondanza; they have a good grasp of the songs' drama and need for variations in dynamic. These are the most satisfactory. But the improperly held notes and lack of delicacy and negotiation of the subtleties of line sometimes detract from a set of works that are exposed, intimate and allowable of no room for error.

The sequence of songs lends the two CDs variety and room for reflection. Technical shortcomings of the singers notwithstanding, one is led into a strange and clearly-defined world: that of a composer distilling the essence of his sources in such a way as to shed new light onto them. This needs a subtler and more nuanced approach by the singers for whom these are not the originals. Their meanings and themes are not those of our age. They need to be approached – shepherded, almost – more obliquely and with greater self-awareness than for the most part is the case here. There are tenderness, passion and drama, of course. The Renaissance rhetoric is – rightly – not poured out, but appropriately filtered. Listen to the slightly witheld pathos of Caro mio ben [CD.1 tr.11] and the persuasion and intelligence of Monologo del "tempo" [CD.1 tr.9], for instance. The intention is all there. But more than the fulfilment. Something is lacking. Perhaps self-confidence: this "recreation" is an unusual idiom.

The acoustic (of the Auditorium Federico Cesi in Acquasoarta near Terni in Umbria) is dry and does next to nothing to help the singers and pianist. Indeed, it's almost wooden in its lack of resonance and depth; it has the feel of a church hall, almost. While this brings an immediacy and authenticity to the experience of listening to the hour and a half of intimate music, its narrow ambience does intrude at times. Farinelli wrote the lengthy and informative essay in the booklet, which also contains biographies of himself and the four singers. The texts of the music are not included. This appears to be the first recording of all Dallapiccola's songs; certainly, only Rencesvals is in the current catalog. Limitations aside, this is a worthy collection and one from which lovers of twentieth century Italian music will derive limited pleasure.

Copyright © 2015, Mark Sealey