CD Review: Allegro Danzante

The worlds of film music and classical music co-exist peacefully side by side in my house. Throughout my many years of college, I was interested in hearing the concert works of film composers, especially clarinet pieces. My professors never let me program them, but they still provided me with new opportunities to learn different kinds of music by some of my favorite composers. (I keep hoping to hear Alex North’s Pastime Suite one of these days.)

ALLEGRO DANZANTE: ONE CENTURY OF ITALIAN MUSIC , a new CD of music for clarinet and piano, contains some interesting names seldom seen in relation to their concert output–including Nino RotaMario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, and Ennio Morricone (who I had no idea wrote anything other film music)–though not all the composers represented on the disc are film composers.

The program begins with a Rota (1911-1979) piece that gives the CD its title, Allegro danzante. Written in 1977, the piece has not yet been unpublished and makes its world premiere on this recording. Though it ends fairly abruptly, this lively and energetic 3-minute work, with its echoing figures in the two instruments, would make a lively opener for a clarinet recital.

Rota is also represented with the Sonata in re (1945). Written in a standard three-movement sonata form, Rota channels his inner Brahms throughout the piece, especially in the outer movements. All three movements are characterized by flowing arpeggios in both instruments. Throughout the piece, the clarinet line lies very comfortably and is shown to its best advantage. Rota writes some beautiful themes for the instrument. This is a piece that I wish I had discovered back in my performing days. It would have made a delightful addition to my repertoire. (If you’re interested in exploring more of Rota’s concert music, please check out my reviews of other recent releases here and here.)

Like so many European Jewish musicians, Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968) fled Italy in 1939 and settled in Hollywood. From 1941 to 1954, he mainly wrote stock music or worked uncredited on various films. In 1946 he had become an American citizen and until his death in 1968 he taught at the Los Angeles Conservatory, where his pupils included Henry Mancini, Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, and André Previn.

Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Sonata op. 128 dates from 1945. Where Rota’s sonata was all sunshine, Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s is far darker and harmonically richer. The technically challenging piece begins quietly in a very high tessitura of the instrument. The four-movement work continues with a wicked scherzo in which the clarinet leaps and cavorts over some fiendish intervals. The third movement Lullaby gives us a lovely main theme and a brief breather from the technical challenges of the other movements. The work closes with a lively tarantella in which both clarinet and piano seem to be hanging on for dear life.

Another world premiere on the disc is also the latest in terms of compositional date, Morricone’s Ipotesi, dating from 2000. I wasn’t expecting a spaghetti Western sound, but Morricone’s piece certainly came as a surprise. Played in piano and pianissimo by both clarinet and piano, this atonal work features the clarinet playing everything in seconds and sevenths, with an occasional flutter tongue. This is a piece that probably appeals more to clarinetists looking for something new to play than to the casual listener.

Other works on the disc include Ferruccio Busoni’s Elegie from 1920, a simple, beautiful work that shows off the clarinet’s beauty of tone to its fullest, as well as pieces by Vittorio Fellegara, Raffaele Cacciola, and Michele DallOngaro, three composers whose names were new to me.

Clarinetists Rocco Parisi and pianist Gabriele Rota (I’m not sure if he is any relation to the composer) play well together. Parisi’s tone is well focused and the recording is clean and crisp, sometimes a bit too crisp with the clacking of the clarinet keys stealing focus.

ALLEGRO DANZANTE will mainly appeal to clarinetists. Each piece taken separately has things to recommend it, but as the disc plays on, the lack of other instruments and the increasing atonal quality of the pieces begins to wear thin. Still, I would have had a grand time learning many of these works…and challenging my audiences in performance.

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