Apart from Gustav Mahler, who was equally famous for both composing and conducting, internationally known music maestros who also composed are relatively few; examples are Wilhelm Furtwaengler, Igor Markevitch, Evgeni Svetlanov, and Bruno Walter. In his lifetime, Franco Ferrara, one of Italy's most renowned 20th-century conductors, tutored over 600 students, including many who subsequently became famous conductors. It is, therefore, a surprise and a pleasure to discover that he was also a composer. According to the Naxos program notes, his vast, largely unexplored catalog includes instrumental, vocal, and orchestral works; a full-length, as-yet unstaged opera, "La sagra del fuoco" (The Festival of Fire); numerous short pieces written for television and adverts; and, curiously, a few songs written under the pseudonym of Franz Falco.
Based on the contents of this new CD from Naxos, what he composed is certainly worth hearing, in my opinion. Once again, Naxos is to be congratulated on taking a leap of faith by recording these virtually works. The solemn "Preludio" is followed by the dramatic, late-Romantic-style "Fantasia tragica," which (according to the notes) draws upon Shostakovich; the persistent drum beats drive home forcibly the concept of tragedy. "Notte di tempesta" (Stormy Night) is also highly dramatic and (to my mind) projects a brooding atmosphere. "Burlesca," one of Ferrara's earlier works, is lighter in mood, and makes a splendid contrast to the other three works on this CD.
The program notes give many details about Ferrara, but little information about the four works heard on this CD. Despite that, those who love emotional music composed in the late-Romantic period (with some touches of post-Romanticism, although Ferrara never composed in an atonal style) should certainly add this CD to their collection.
The playing and recording quality are exemplary.