Saturday 22 August 2015

Wolf Ferrari - Suite Veneziana

Wolf-Ferrari - Suite Veneziana
Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari Suite Veneziana, Tritico, Divertimento; Oviedo Filarmonia, Friedrich Haider; PhilArtis Vienna
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 07 2015
Star rating: 3.5

Charming and beguiling, incidental music by Wolf-Ferrari

This new disc of music by Wolf-Ferrari from Friedrich Haider and the Oviedo Filarmonia on the PhilArtis Vienna label, puts together some of the music from the operas with three of Wolf-Ferrari's orchestral suites. All three, Suite Veneziana, Trittico and Divertimento were written in the 1930's at a time of worry for the composer with the combination of a heart condition, the political situation (being half Italian and half German he had found the First World War a personal strain), not to mention a decline in performances of his works. There seems to be frustratingly little information on the background to the music. The CD booklet, with its attractively discursive article On the trail of Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari with Friedrich Haider is of little help, and at one point admits that the composer left behind little information apart from the music itself.

Having enjoyed the composer's Violin concerto (which I reviewed recently), written a few years later than the works on this disc, I have to confess that I found the music on this disc a little disappointing. The individual movements are all highly attractive but the music rarely adds up to something bigger, and each of the three suites sounds more like a selection of incidental music to a play (not for the first time when considering Wolf-Ferrari's music, Richard Strauss and his music for Le bourgeois gentilhomme came to mind).

We start with four pieces from the operas. The Intermezzo from L'amore medico (1913) is a charming, lilting movement. The overture to Il segreto di Susanna is brilliant, full of busy excitement and expectation, a real overture. There is a lovely delicacy and transparency to the writing in the final two, the Preludio from I quatro rusteghi and the Ritornello from Il Campiello.

Wolf-Ferrari's Suite Veneziana was written in 1935/36, it is in four movements In laguna, Barcarolla, Notturno - Canali solitari and Alba di festa. The intriguing and lyrical opening movement has a lovely violin part (the piece was based on a song written some years earlier), which brings a real yearning quality to the music. The Barcarola is fine grained and graceful, whilst Notturno is full of delicate, lyrical textures, rather more complex than it first appeared. The final Alba di festa has an intriguing lilt. There is a reserved, rather dark, yearning quality underlying the music, this is not the Venice of the fiesta but of the darker canals. Yet, overall, I felt that suite lacked something and did not quite come together, it felt more like a suite of incidental music.

Trittico was written in 1936 just after Suite Veneziana and seems to have religious overtones with three movements, In excelsis, Agli eroi caduti (For the dead heroes) and Preghiera. Its background seems a little obscure, and it is not quite clear what Wolf-Ferrari was aiming at. Whilst the references clearly imply the work's premiere on 'Memorial Day' in Italy, we know that the composer was an opponent of the regime. Who might the dead heroes be, and what are we to imply by the triptych of the title? The first movement is lovely, rather thoughtful with some complex textures and feel of strongly structures music. Agli eroi cadutii has a chromatic theme which sounds as if it ought to develop into a fugue, but never does. A lovely lyrical solo violin characterises the Preghiera with a rather wandering melody.

Divertimento dates from 1936/37 and its four movements (Variasioni su un tema capriccioso, Canzone Pastorale, Siciliana, Rondo finale) seem to references dances and period music  and I kept coming back to Strauss's Le bourgeois gentilhomme and Respighi's Ancient Airs and Dances. It is charming, beautifully constructed music but by this time on the disc I was rather yearning for something stronger. What we get is the Arabeschi from 1939, a longer movement which seems to live in the same world as the Divertimento.

This is lovely music which only occasionally seems to rise above the level of lyrical charm, despite fine performances from the Oviedo Filarmonia and strong advocacy from Friedrich Haider. I am no sure of the wisdom of assembling these suites together on disc. Whilst it might make sense on paper, we end up with a disc of music which all lives a little too much in the same world. This is a disc to dip into, to be charmed and beguiled for a while.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (1876-1948) - Intermezzo from L'amore medico
Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (1876-1948) - Overture from Il segreto di Susanna
Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (1876-1948) - Preludio from I quatro rusteghi
Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (1876-1948) - Ritornello from Il Campiello
Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (1876-1948) - Suite Veneziana, Op.18 (1935/36)
Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (1876-1948) - Trittico, Op.19 (1936)
Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (1876-1948) - Divertimento, Op.20 (1936/37)
Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (1876-1948) - Arabeschi, Op.22 (1939)
Oviedo Filarmonia
Friedrich Haider
Recorded Auditorio Principe Felipe, Oviedo, 2008/2009

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