Malipiero’s Violin Concerti

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MALIPIERO: Violin Concerti Nos. 1 & 2. Per una favola cavalleresca / Paolo Chiavacci, vln; Orchestra Sinfonia di Roma; Francesco La Vecchia, cond / Naxos 8.573075

Gian Francesco Malipiero is one of those “early” modern composers that people love to hate because he didn’t write in a more accessible style like Respighi, but I’ve usually found his music very interesting and well composed (by which I mean it has direction and focus). This disc presents his two violin concertos which, sadly, are still not played much in live concerts, as well as an early orchestral work, Per una favola cavalleresca, written when he was 33 years old.

Like many modern composers of his day, Malipiero was influenced to some extent by Stravinsky. The first concerto, dating from 1932, combines lyrical but tonally ambiguous melodies with classical style. The second movement is especially attractive and the one part of the concerto that is rooted in tonality; I can almost imagine just this movement being played on classical FM radio stations (the way they play only the “Adagio” from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony). Paolo Chiavacci is a technically excellent musician with the kind of bright, lean tone typical of Italian violinists, and Francesco La Vecchia conducts well if not with as much emotional involvement as Chiavacci. The third movement of this concerto lies, tonally, about halfway between the first and second movements; it sounds like slightly more harmonically advanced Respighi. The very long violin solo in the middle is quite interesting, a composition within a composition, and in fact when the orchestra returns it is to continue in this vein, following the violin’s lead.

Per una favola cavalleresca, the only purely orchestral work on this CD, receives its first recording here. In this period, Malipiero was quite obviously influenced more by the modern French school than Stravinsky; the opaque orchestral scoring in particular echoes the French composers, as does much of the harmony, yet the melodic line is distinctly Italian, and even within the movements of this piece one hears touches of Stravinskian harmony here and there (but, of course, Stravinsky was partly influenced by Debussy and Ravel as well). It does not, however, sound much like the first Violin Concerto at all, which is why, as the liner notes say, some people have trouble believing that the same composer wrote both works. And once again, his Italian roots come to the fore, here in the second movement (“Con molta gaiezza, ma non troppo mosso”) with its stronger rhythmic pulse and his juxtaposition of very high wind writing against very low brass playing along with the basses, although several bars later he swings back into modern French chord positions. Yet I found the third-movement “Lento” a bit weak; here, Malipiero created a melodic line that, although developed, isn’t particularly interesting and doesn’t much go anywhere. This is redeemed, however, by the excellent “Vivace assai,” which has pre-echoes of Respighi’s Roman tone poems of a decade later except with somewhat more advanced harmonies.

The second violin concerto from 1963 is fully mature Malipiero, using atonality but not the strict dodecaphonic method of writing. The top line for the violin soloist combines atonality with lyricism, as did Berg’s 1935 Violin Concerto, and typical for this composer, the music is solidly and logically structured. Indeed, if anything it is more tightly written than the first concerto; there are no weak or meandering sections here. The abrupt ending of the first movement is but one indication although the more serious mien of the second movement is another.

The last movement (“Alquanto mosso”) is particularly complex, particularly in its rhythm, which is quite like late Stravinsky, but also in its rootless atonality. The soloist’s lines are jagged and angular, albeit with moments of lyricism here and there, and the orchestration almost constantly pits high instruments against low ones with very little in the middle. Yet here, as in the first concerto, we have a similarity, and that is an extended solo for the violin using an entirely different theme which is them picked up on by the orchestra. And another surprise: the piece just stops abruptly in the middle of nowhere!

This is an excellent CD: interesting works seldom recorded in good performances.

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

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