Saturday, 3 January 2015

Ashley Riches and Emma Abbate in rarities by Castelnuovo-Tedesco

Castelnuovo-Tedesco Shakespeare Sonnets - Resonus Classics
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco sonnets; Ashley Riches, Emma Abbate; Resonus Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 10 2014
Star rating: 3.5

Settings of Shakespeare's sonnets by the underrated Italian composer, in superb performances

Say the name Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco to anyone and the chances are that they will think of the guitar music. He was also a prominent film composer working on over 200 films in Hollywood and a number of the film greats were his pupils. This new disc from baritone Ashley Riches and pianist Emma Abbate showcases another side to the composer, his love of Shakespeare. Recorded on the download-only Resonus Classics label we have 23 of Castelnuovo-Tedesco's settings of Shakespeare's sonnets.

Castelnuovo-Tedesco came from prominent Jewish banking family in Florence and his early career had involved study with Pizzetti and Casella. Castelnuovo-Tedesco left Italy in 1939, fleeing the new racial laws. Though he worked in films for 15 years (Rita Hayworth's The Loves of Carmen was one of his) he continued to write concert music as well and would return to Shakespeare with the opera The Merchant of Venice in 1956. Shakespeare seems to have been an ongoing obsession for him and these settings of the sonnets date from 1940-45; he had already set the 33 songs from the plays in the 1920s.

Ashley Riches
There is little sense of war or anger in these songs, no feeling of the period in which they were written. Musically they are clearly late romantic, rather complex with long vocal lines. There certainly isn't much of a whiff of film music either, these are highly serious pieces. The songs are all quite short, around two and a half minutes.

The problem for me is that the sonnets themselves, which Castelnuovo-Tedesco sets in English, are quite wordy and very strong in their own right. Castelnuovo-Tedesco's word setting is generally syllabic and I have to confess that I find the results rather meandering. Individual moments can be expressive, but ultimately the songs did not quite move me. In terms of style, the closest that I can come up with is the late Romantic sense of Samuel Barber but without Barber's intense melodic memorability Each song is almost a little scene and they work well individually but do not quite add up to a coherent cycle, with a little too much feeling of the same. The songs will probably work well with just a few in a mixed recital.

This is no fault of the performers, Ashley Riches and Emma Abbate are very fine indeed. Riches produces a lovely flexible yet firm line with gorgeous dark hints in the tone quality. He shapes Castelnuovo-Tedesco's sometimes diffuse vocal lines into things of really expressive beauty. Abbate is equally impressive, highly supportive of Riches in the richly chromatic piano part.

The CD booklet contains the full texts and an article which devotes rather too much space to song in Shakespeare and rather too little to Castelnuovo-Tedesco and his songs.

Castelnuovo-Tedesco remains a somewhat neglected and underrated. You do rather wonder whether his period in Hollywood has still tarnished his reputation. These are pieces that I wanted to like more, but dismally failed I am afraid. They are certainly well worth investigation, especially in such fine performances from a talented pair of young artists and this is a fine disc to dip into.

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895 - 1968) - Sonnet VIII: Music to hear, why hear'st thou music sadly? 2:18
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895 - 1968) - Sonnet XXX: When to the sessions if sweet silent thought 2:33
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895 - 1968) - Sonnet XCVII: How like a winter hath my absence been from thee 2:53
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895 - 1968) - Sonnet CV: Let not my love be called idolatry 2:33
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895 - 1968) - Sonnet LXXIII: That time of year thou may'st in me behold 1:40
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895 - 1968) - Sonnet CIX: O never say that I was false of heart 2:23
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895 - 1968) - Sonnet XVIII: Shall I compare thee to a summer's day 2:13
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895 - 1968) - Sonnet CXLVI: Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth 2:59
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895 - 1968) - Sonnet XXVII: Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed 2:49
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895 - 1968) - Sonnet CVI: When in the chronicle of wasted time 2:11
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895 - 1968) - Sonnet XC: Then hate me when thou wilt; if ever, now 1:52
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895 - 1968) - Sonnet CII: My love is strengthen'd, thou more weak in seeming 2:08
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895 - 1968) - Sonnet XXXII: If thou survive my well-contented day 2:38
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895 - 1968) - Sonnet LIII: What is your substance, whereof you are made 2:22
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895 - 1968) - Sonnet XXXV: No more be grieved at that which thou hast done 2:11
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895 - 1968) - Sonnet LX: Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore 1:49
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895 - 1968) - Sonnet CXXVIII: How oft, when thou, my music, music play'st 2:39
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895 - 1968) - Sonnet LVII: Being your slave 2:41
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895 - 1968) - Sonnet XXIX: When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes 2:11
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895 - 1968) - Sonnet LXIV: When I have seen by time's fell hand defaced 2:37
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895 - 1968) - Sonnet LXV: Since brass, nor stone, nor death, nor boundless sea 2:32
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895 - 1968) - Sonnet LXXXVII: Farewell! Thou art too dear for my possessing 2:39
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895 - 1968) - Sonnet CIV: To me, fair friend, you never can be old 2:23
Ashley Riches (baritone)
Emma Abbate (piano)
Recorded at St John's the Evangelist, Iffley Road, Oxford, 30-31 May 2014
RESONUS CLASSICS RES10141 1CD [55.26]


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