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CLASSICAL  February 2009

CLASSICAL February 2009

Subject:

Music of Vittorio Giannini

From:

Karl Miller <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sun, 15 Feb 2009 12:43:51 -0800

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text/plain

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Vittorio Giannini
Piano Concerto
Symphony No. 4
Gabriela Imreh, piano
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Daniel Spalding, conductor
Naxos 8.559352

Executive summary: Richly expressive, heartfelt music, sympathetically
performed.

As the dust settles from the hyperbole of music criticism of the last
fifty years, we are beginning to take a look, from a more evenly balanced
perspective, at the creative contributions of our American composers of
the 20th Century, and judge that music on its own values and not on its
place in the evolution of style.  I would like to believe that it is
judging music on its own worth, versus some stylistic notions of what
might have been considered appropriate, is what has lead to this rediscovery
of these works by Giannini.

Vittorio Giannini (1903-1966) is one of so many American composers who
was overshadowed by the more revolutionary composers of his time.  While
his Piano Concerto received good notices on its premiere in 1937, it
seems to have quickly.  It was music of the 19th Century written in the
20th Century.  Olin Downes, writing of the New York Premiere, (given by
the National Orchestral Association; Roselyn Tureck, piano; Leon Barzin,
conducting) opined, 'That the invention is operatic, rather than symphonic
in outline, is true, nor need be claimed that this score, too heavily
orchestrated and too elaborately treated for its material, has very much
originality.' I would agree with much of Downes wrote at that time.
Surprisingly, he did not seem particularly critical of its conservative
style.  Downes also states, 'The grand peroration at the end is a la
Rachmaninoff.' I am reminded of another work which received its first
performance in the late 1920s and was severely criticized for being too
conservative...Rachmaninoff's own Fourth Concerto!  Perhaps Giannini's
Concerto was not of its time either, but as Downes adds, 'The first thing
is spontaneity and directness of approach, and this the music has.'

The first movement of the Concerto is a curious mix of styles.  One is
reminded of the music of Saint-Saens, MacDowell; more Chopinesque than
Lisztian.  The movement seems a bit long as the thematic material tends
to outstay its welcome.  The second movement is, to my ears, far more
successful.  It is clearly a joyous romantic expression of a young man
who is in love with the beauty of a singing melodic line. It is gloriously
beautiful music.  The shape of its thematic material, beginning at the
entrance of the solo horn, its exposition and development, suggests to
me the slow movement of the Saint-Saens Third Symphony, a work which
Giannini had likely heard when it was performed in New York in 1930,
just four years before Giannini wrote his Concerto.  From a structural
standpoint, the rhetoric of the final movement of the Concerto is a bit
long, but it is rich with a wealth of attractive thematic material.
There is a fugato section which seems a bit out of place.  I was expecting
the final entrance of the subject to be on the piano, yet the piano only
seems to offer a bit of comment on the development of the fugue subject.

The music benefits greatly by the playing of pianist Gabriela Imreh,
who puts her obviously substantive technique and interpretive skills to
good use.  It is clear that she cares about the music and has all of the
requisite skill to convey every ounce of its expression.  The focus of
her interpretation is on the intimacy and lyricism of the music as opposed
to any attempt to maximize the bravura.  One hopes that she will explore
other concerted works of this same era, by the likes of Ornstein, Sowerby,
EB Hill, Lopatnikoff, Gruenberg, Diamond, Cole, et al.  While the Piano
Concerto is filled with the rich expression and optimism of a young man,
the Fourth Symphony written 25 years later, understandably presents us
with a mature composer who is far more introspective and reflective.  It
is a richly melodic, inspiring expression.  To my ears, the music is
stylistically similar to the work of another superb composer of this
same period of time, and, as of this writing, still composing; Robert
Ward.

The slow movement is, for me, the heart of the work.  It sings with
great beauty.  While I don't know if film composer John Williams had any
training under Giannini, I feel as though I would be remiss if I did not
mention the Similarities between portions of Williams' magnificent score
to Superman, the final third of the track, the 'Fortress of Solitude'
in particular, and the slow movement of the Giannini Fourth.  I believe
Williams did study at Juilliard around the same time Giannini wrote his
Symphony so perhaps Williams was left with some imprint of Giannini's
work.  The Symphony's finale is full of nobility and strength.

Both Spalding and Imreh deserve great praise for bringing us superb
performances of such highly expressive, heartfelt music.  Spalding
provides a respectful and well-balanced reading to the music.  For my
tastes he is a bit on the timid side when it comes to exploring the
extremes of expression to be found in the music.  His approach is most
convincing in the slow movements.  A tape of the first performance of
the Symphony with Morel conducting the Juilliard Orchestra shows that a
more vigorous interpretation can be quite effective, even if the quality
of the ensemble was wanting, as was the case with the that first
performance.

The playing of the Bournemouth Symphony is what this writer has come to
expect of that organization...flawless.  Expert program notes are provided
by that champion of American Music, Walter Simmons.  The recorded sound
seems a bit distant. I would have also appreciated the piano sound being
a bit more forward.  Even with minor reservations, this disc is a major
contribution to the Naxos series of American Classics.

Karl Miller

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