Damian Iorio Conducts Malipiero

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MALIPIERO: Symphony No. 6, “Degli Archi.” Ritrovari (Rediscoveries). Serenata Mattutina. 5 Studies / Orch. della Svizzera Italiana; Damian Iorio, cond / Naxos 8.574173

Gian Francesco Malipiero was clearly one of the most significant of modern Italian composers of his time, which ranged from the 1920s through the 1960s. His music was colorful, imaginative and bristling with new ideas; almost none of it was predictable or formulaic. Yet it took decades for him to be recognized much outside his native Italy because he was overshadowed by the likes of Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Messiaen, etc.

Listening to his excellent Sixth Symphony, written entirely for strings, one wonders if his penchant for lyricism—albeit lyricism tempered by modern, Bartók-like chord progressions—didn’t have something to do with his lack of recognition. The composers mentioned above had all but abandoned lyricism by 1947, when this work premiered (though Stravinsky resuscitated it for The Rake’s Progress in 1951), while Malipiero unashamedly pursues it. Unlike Messiaen, who in his “Turangalila” Symphony completely broke the old mold, Malipiero continued in this work to use the four-movement format that went back to Haydn and Beethoven. Moreover, the slow second movement almost has an “American” sound in the sense that Copland’s music did. Surely, both its theme and its harmony are not far removed from Appalachian Spring or the slow movements of Copland’s famous early-1940s ballets. I bring all this up not to disparage Malipiero, but merely to place him historically and to explain why other modern composers, even Italians like Petrassi and especially Scelsi, found Malipiero sympathetic to their aims but not quite as radical in his actual scores.

And yet, just listen to the “Scherzo” of this symphony and you’ll appreciate Malipiero’s musical mind. The music remains bracing in a Copland-esque way, with many open fourths and fifths used in the scoring, yet its progression is uniquely his own (though perhaps with a tip to Hindemith in the unusual, brief cello solo). The last movement begins slowly, lyrically and tonally before opening up, at the 1:38 mark, into faster, more driving music, sounding here like an Italian Stravinsky, before receding into slower music once again.

Ritrovari (Rediscoveries), of which this is the first recording, is a fine suite written in 1926 for the odd combination of a wind quintet with four violas, cello and bass. The music was based on Gabriele d’Annunzio’s The Ship of Promise, which called for a “warlike” first movement, a second movement of “discordant violence,” a “funeral march” for the third, the fourth expressing “solitude and sadness” and the fifth and last flaring up “with the immortal will to vengeance, liberation and glory.” After a relatively conventional opening, most of this suite is indeed quite imaginative and follows d’Annunzio’s suggestions fairly closely. The Serenata mattutina (1959) is mature Malipiero, one of his most modern-sounding compositions, yet still retains some of the lyricism of his youthful works.

We close out this program with his 5 Studies of 1959-60, a very Stravinsky-like piece in a sort of Italian neo-Classic style with typical Stravinskian harmonies. Although I found nearly all of the music on this set of interest, I can’t say much about the performances themselves other than that they are clean and professional-sounding. Damian Iorio may indeed be a well-trained conductor, having studied at Indiana University, but I found his work here to be devoid of any feeling, which is a shame because this music clearly cries out for impassioned playing. Recommended, then, for the music as such while the conducting and playing merely ranks two fish.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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