Wednesday, 1 April 2020

A dialogue with the past: the chamber music of Riccardo Malipiero from the Rest Ensemble

Riccardo Malipiero chamber works; Rest Ensemble; Brilliant Classics
Riccardo Malipiero chamber works; Rest Ensemble; Brilliant Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 30 March 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Four chamber works from the 20th century Italian composer Riccardo Malipiero, combined twelve-tone technique with a dialogue with the past in terrific performances from this Italian ensemble

What does the name Malipiero mean to you in terms of composition? For me it primarily evokes the editor of the early editions of Vivaldi's Gloria which used to be standard issue for choral societies, though I was hazily aware that Malipiero was also a composer.

In fact the Malipieros were a dynasty of composers, Francesco Malipiero (1824-1887) was a composer of operas in the mid 19th century and his grandson, Gian Francesco Malipiero (1882-1973) was an important composer, editor of Monteverdi and Vivaldi, and teacher. As well as a significant body of compositions, Malipiero edited a complete Monteverdi edition and much Vivaldi (editions which have been superceded but which played an important role in the development of the 20th century performance traditions of these composers). He was also a notable teacher, whose pupils included Luigi Nono (1924-1990), Roger Sessions (1896-1985) and his own nephew Riccardo Malipiero (1914-2003), who is the subject of a new disc.

I have to confess that, until I listened to this disc of Riccardo Malipiero's chamber music on Brilliant Classics, I had never come across the composer's works. Here we have four works spanning a significant part of Malipiero's career from 1956 to 1987, Sonata for violin and piano, Ciaccona di Davide for viola and piano, Mosaico II for violin solo and Trio for piano, violin and cello, performed by the Rest Ensemble, Rebecca Raimondi (violin), Daniele Valabrega (viola), Michele Marco Rossi (cello) and Alessandro Viale (piano). Any you may recognise some of the performers from pianist Alessandro Viale's recent Minimal Works CD [see my review].

Rest Ensemble
Rest Ensemble
Malipiero's early works all used free atonality but from the mid-1940s he devoted himself to the twelve-tone technique and became one of the pioneers of that technique in Italy. In 1949, he organized the First Congress of twelve-tone music in Milan which was attended by such composers as John Cage, Luigi Dallapiccola, Karl Amadeus Hartmann, René Leibowitz, and Bruno Maderna.

Apart from the Ciaccona di Davide, which was recorded in the 1970s, all the recordings on this disc are premieres, and the ensemble's intention was not only to plug a gap in the recording catalogue but to encourage other ensembles to perform the works. What is perhaps notable about Malipiero's chamber music on this disc is that, despite his modernism, he writes for traditional classical ensembles so that we have the usual line-ups of violin and piano, viola and piano, solo violin and piano trio, so there is no reason why other adventurous performers should not explore the works.


Pure twelve-tone technique was perhaps a little old-fashioned when Malipiero's Sonata for Violin and Piano was premiered at the Wigmore Hall in 1957 (Boulez had already written Le marteau sans maitre and was writing Pli selon pli). The work was commissioned by a major American violinist, but it wasn't complete in time and Malipiero was writing the last movement when the terrible events happened in Hungary in 1956, which affected the music considerably as it ends almost without ending. No matter how angular Malipiero's musical lines are, they are always expressive with the composer finding a remarkable amount of lyricism in them.  There is an austerity to, or perhaps more rightly a severity. The work is in four movements, but tradition only goes so far and structurally each movement is very much Malipiero's own.

The Ciaccona di Davide for viola and piano was premiered in 1970. It is a single movement lasting over 13 minutes, all based on a tone-row inspired by the name of the dedicatee. The work uses the tone row as a ground-bass for the chaconne, which provides a remarkable link to the editorial work of Malipiero's uncle, Gian Francesco. It is a big dramatic work, starting from a rather darkly mysterious opening, where Malipiero seems to find expressive freedom in the sheer restriction of basing a chaconne on a tone row!

The final work on the disc is the next in historical sequence, the Piano Trio which was premiered in 1970. Malipiero described the genesis of the work: 'this Trio is the outcome of a bet the Author made with himself; the challenge to overcome the difficulties of writing a Trio and to surpass the reserve of many contemporary composers to write for such an ensemble, once so rich of literature, now so poor'. As with the previous two works, we find Malipiero bringing his own contemporary imagination to bear on a traditional form. Structured in four movements, though the second movement is an Adagio and the third a Scherzo, Malipiero does not strain at sonata form and uses his own structural methods. The result is music which, perhaps, might have seemed somewhat old-fashioned in 1970. It is 12-tone, well-made, at times lyrical and always expressive. Malipiero has a fine ear for the possibilities of the textures of a piano trio, using the three instruments imaginatively.

The last work in the historical sequence is Mosaico II from 1987, which was composed as the compulsory piece for the seventh Rodolfo Lipizer International Violin Competition in 1988, and is subtitled 'capriccio per violino solo'. As might be expected from a competition piece, passages from it are demanding and highly virtuosic, and again in the writing you feel Malipiero having a dialogue with the past in a way that many composers in the mid- to late-twentieth century did not. By 1987, Malipiero was 73, and hence approaching the possibilities of 'Grand Old Man' status, but the music is anything but.



I enjoyed this disc immensely, it provided a fascinating alternative glance at the music of the 20th century, an extension of twelve-tone technique in a way which few other composers espoused and, perhaps because of the family connections, an intelligent dialogue with the past. The performances from the Rest Ensemble are superb, they have clearly lived with this music and their preparations for the disc included performances. The results encompass all of Malipiero's technical challenges (and much of the music is demanding) but in a way which brings out the essential expressive lyricism of Malipiero's style.

Riccardo Malipiero (1914-2003) - Sonata for violin and piano (1956)
Riccardo Malipiero - Ciaccona di Davide, for viola and piano (1970)
Riccardo Malipiero - Mosaico II, for violin solo (1987)
Riccardo Malipiero - Trio for piano, violin and cello (1968)
Rest Ensemble (Rebecca Raimondi - violin, Daniele Valabrega - viola, Michele Marco Rossi - cello, Alessandro Viale - piano)
Recorded 6-8 August 2019, Auditorium of the Casa della Culture e della Musica, Velletri
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 95971 1CD [62.49]

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