The Rest Ensemble Plays Malipiero

Malipiero cover

R. MALIPIERO: Violin Sonata.1,4 Ciaconna di Davide.2,4 Mosaico II.1 Trio1,3,4 /Rest Ensemble: 1Rebecca Raimondi, vln; 2Daniela Valabrega, vla; 3Michele Marco Rossi, cel; Alessandro Viale, pno / Brilliant Classics 95971

Brilliant Classics is one of those independent labels, like Dynamic, Toccata Classics and Piano Classics, that I really love because in addition to standard repertoire they love to issue more outré repertoire of the 19th and 20th centuries.

This disc is one such. Riccardo Malipiero Jr. (1914-2003), the son of a cellist, is not to be confused with Gian Francesco Malipiero (1882-1973), another interesting Italian modernist, to whom he was not related. Both wrote music that was modern for their time, but Riccardo embraced the sonata form while Gian Francesco railed against it as “stifling.”

I have had occasion to praise violinist Rebecca Raimondi in the past, and her playing on this CD only makes me appreciate her all the more. She has that wonderfully bright tone that so many Italian violinists have possessed over the years, and she is often adventurous in her repertoire, as this disc proves. Her fellow-musicians in the Rest Ensemble are equally fine.

The 1956 Violin-Piano Sonata is a fair indication of Malipiero’s talents. The music is 12-tone, but for Malipiero this technique was a means to an end, not the end in itself, meaning that he used it naturally and fluidly to produce music that is lyrical and has a great deal of breadth. A good comparison would be to Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto, often considered one of the great gems of the Second Vienna School. Alessandro Viale’s liner notes state that by 1963 “the dodecaphonic idiom…could well be considered almost old-fashioned, especially when not turned to the integral serialism. But for Riccardo Malipiero, the choice of dodecaphony is not aesthetic but technical, and this entails a flexible approach, without a rigid adhesion to his rules: expression is the priority.”

In layman’s terms, I suppose this means that the music is more attractive than the average Schoenberg composition, surely more attractive that those of Webern, whose music always sounds cerebral and emotionally detached. Possibly because his father was a cellist, Malipiero believed very strongly in cantare, the ability of the instruments to sing, thus his music had a strongly lyrical quality lacking even in the fascinating 12-tone works of Stravinsky.

Yet it is this very lyricism that makes the music difficult to describe. One can easily point out the way in which he took the 12-tone system and moved materials around to create his movements, but to be honest, it is music that has to be heard to be fully understood and appreciated. The human, lyrical element of his music cannot be disassociated from the technique used to create it; they are two sides of the same coin. I found it utterly fascinating as well as conceptually brilliant. One interesting feature of this sonata is the fourth movement, “Deciso, ma a cadenza,” which opens with a long violin solo until the piano enters at 3:55 into the movement, at which point the tempo increases to a rapid pace and Malipiero creates a sort of two-voiced fugue. Then the music slows down almost to a crawl as the duo plays sad, mournful figures to the end.

The Ciaconna di Davide, from 1970, is a work for viola and piano. Here, too, Malipiero alternates lyrical lines with fascinating contrapuntal figures in one continuous movement lasting 13:05. At about the 5:25 mark, the music becomes thornier without entirely sacrificing a lyrical curve. Later on, Malipiero sets up a strong forward rhythm that eventually doubles, with the music suddenly becoming quite menacing, before a dead stop and then a return to lyricism.

Surprisingly, the Mosaica II for solo violin (1987) opens with a violin solo that almost sounds a bit like the opening of Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” Sonata, but quickly moves in a different direction. This is not quite a sonata, but more a juxtaposition of alternating themes and lines; its subtitle is “capriccio per violin solo.” At th six-minute mark, the violin accompanies its own rhapsodic upper melody with pizzicato figures in the lower range. At the very end, the soloist plays chipper, capriccio-like figures.

The Piano Trio of 1968 has an entirely different feel to it, opening with a soft, two-note repeated figure on the piano as the violin and cello play mysterious held notes above it. The liner notes give Malipiero’s own description of this piece, which arose from a bet he made with himself to compose such a piece “to surpass the reserve of many contemporary composers” in the piano trio form. He also admits that “this trio has not the ambition of the Sonata form, even if the second movement is indeed an Adagio and the third is a Scherzo.” In a way, this is the most imaginative work on this disc, with the music shifting gears and changing direction on a dime, particularly in the quirky first movement. Although the slow second movement opens with a cello solo of some breadth, it largely consists of sharp, broken edges, atonal figures that clash against each other. The third and fourth movements also use clashing figures, tied together by the strong rhythms.

This is a splendid disc of unusual, highly creative music, played with fervor and commitment.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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