Music By Nicolas Flagello: Violin Concerto; Symphonic Aria; Mirra
(Interlude and Dance); The Sisters (Interludio); The Rainy Day; The
Brook; Ruth's Aria; Canto; Polo I and II Elmar Oliveira, vln; Susan
Gonzalez, sop.; John McLaughlin Williams, cond.; NRSO of Ukraine
Artek AR 0036-2
Outstanding American Late-Romantic Music by Nicolas Flagello
The music of Nicolas Flagello (1928-1994) has been having something
of a renaissance in recent years after many years of shameful neglect.
He is a member of that group of American Romantics that includes such
composers as Samuel Barber and Gian Carlo Menotti and was a master of
lyricism, expressive emotional content and form. This disc of orchestral
music (including six orchestral songs) contains convincing exemplars of
his abilities. It is largely thanks to musicologist Walter Simmons, an
expert on the music of Flagello and the producer of this disc, that this
recording came about. Simmons supplied the very helpful booklet notes.
The National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, a veteran of recordings
of twentieth century American orchestral music, is conducted sensitively
by John McLaughlin Williams, a specialist in Romantic American music.
The music is presented in roughly chronological order of their composition
from the 1951 'Symphonic Aria' to the two arias 'Polo I and II' from
1979 and 1980.
The big piece here is Flagello's Violin Concerto, played by Elmar
Oliveira who had recorded the composer's 'Credendum' on an earlier disc.
Written in 1956 but because there seemed to be no interest in it, it was
never orchestrated. The Flagello estate asked composer/editor Anthony
Sbordoni to orchestrate it and he has done a masterful job. The concerto
is in the usual three movements. I is based primarily on a minor key
theme introduced initially by lightly accompanied violin; its dominating
interval is a falling fourth. Oliveira plays the movement's fearsomely
difficult cadenza with aplomb. II is an example of Flagello's special
ability for writing ineffably sad and lyrical slow movements -- on this
recording that description also fits the 'Symphonic Aria' and the interlude
from his operas 'Mirra' and 'The Sisters' as well as several of the
songs. ('The Sisters', I've just learned, will be staged at Hunter
College next month, its first production since the early 1960s. Involved
in the production are Susan Gonzalez, the soprano heard on this disc,
who is singing a role as well as staging the Hunter College production,
and the aforementioned Anthony Sbordoni. I wish I could attend it as
I find the heartbreakingly beautiful Interlude from this opera to be
my favorite selection on this disc. Its delicate bitonal splashes of
woodwind color cause a frisson every time I hear them.) The concerto's
third movement is a brilliant rondo which is both stunningly virtuosic
and emotionally expressive. Oliveira conveys both the sadness of II
and the brilliance of I and III with musical assurance and eloquence.
There are two orchestral movements from the 1955 opera 'Mirra': the
previously mentioned Interlude and a wildly frenzied 'Dance' vaguely
reminiscent of similar movements by Bartok or Stravinsky.
After the Violin Concerto come the six orchestral songs. 'The
Rainy Day', is set to Longfellow's familiar poem containing the
famous concluding lines, 'Into each life some rain must fall / Some
days must be dark and dreary'. 'The Brook' (1958) sets poetry by Tennyson.
The line 'I slip, I slide, I gloom, I glance' reminds one of a similar
passage in the Act IV quintet in Barber's 'Vanessa' ('To leave, to break,
to find, to keep') written the same year. 'Ruth's Aria' from Flagello's
final opera 'Beyond the Horizon' based on the O'Neill play is another
lament: 'I now know what I did not know before: / The wounds of mind,
and heart, and soul'. Gonzalez's communication of the emotions of this
and the other arias is a marvel of vocal acting.
The disc concludes with three more orchestral songs. 'Canto' is
a dramatic, anguished scena set to Flagello's own Italian text.
'Polo I' and 'Polo II' -- we are told that a 'polo' is a 'genre of
flamenco song of Arabian origin' -- are songs of farewell to life
and love. These, too, are sung marvelously by Gonzalez in Sbordoni's
On the booklet's cover is a beautiful painting by Flagello himself!
Full texts are provided for the songs. One cannot offer praise high
enough for the music and the performances on this disc, a shining example
of the loving presentation of the highest order of works by a composer
whose fame and acclaim can only grow as a result.
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