3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Thomas F. Bertonneau
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Violinist Elmar Oliveira has taken up the case for the music of Nicolas Flagello (1928 - 1994), an American master whose work fell afoul of snobbish critical disapproval in the last two decades of his life; a lack of performances - and the paucity of recordings - prevented Flagello from developing an audience, which his accessible, dramatic, tuneful music undoubtedly would have done for him given greater exposure. The same story applies to a number of compositional conservatives of the mid-Twentieth Century American tradition, such as Paul Creston and Vittorio Giannini. Writer and musicologist Walter Simmons has given an in-depth vindication of Flagello, Creston, Giannini, and others in his recent Voices in the Wilderness (still available from Amazon.com), which I recommend. The item at hand, however, is the Artek CD-program, featuring Flagello's Violin Concerto (1956) and eight other shorter works, of which Simmons is the producer. Flagello wrote two symphonies, so-called, of which the first is the most impressive; his concerted scores tend also to be "symphonic" in conception, most notably in the late Concerto Sinfonico (1968) for Saxophone quartet and orchestra. It was the British composer Robert Simpson, I believe, who defined symphonic style (in so many words) as the large-scale integration of harmony, melody, rhythm, and color in an orchestral score such that, from the first bar, listeners have a sense of traveling with a purpose - with a destination before them that can be no other. Simpson's definition applies to Flagello and more particularly it applies to the Violin Concerto, set forth in the classical pattern of three movements, fast, slow, and fast. But even the middle-movement Andante is designated "con moto." The surrounding movements are "Allegro Giusto" and "Allegro Comodo." This is muscular, masculine music, "concerted" in the combative sense with the soloist pitched in a contentious dialogue with the orchestra that finds resolution at last in the third-movement coda. The robustness never militates against a genuine lyricism. Flagello reminds us in just about every bar that he stood in the line of Italianate Bel-Canto melody making. A benchmark of the American violin concerto is, of course, Samuel Barber's. Flagello's Concerto can stand up to Barber's. Anyone who is fond of the Barber concerto will respond readily to the Flagello concerto. In my laical opinion, for what it is worth, Flagello's score exceeds Barber's in maturity of conception and symphonic gesture. Anthony Sbordoni's orchestration of Flagello's short-score rises to the challenge of idiomatic persuasiveness. Oliveira's playing sounds utterly committed. The shorter works are a "Symphonic Aria" (1951), an "Interlude and Dance" from the opera Mirra (1955), an "Interlude" from the opera The Sisters (1958), and six songs with orchestra, all sung by soprano Jill Gomez. The orchestral pieces are comparable with items on a similar scale by Creston, Barber, and others. The "Symphonic Aria" provides a case in point, describing a lyrically supercharged crescendo-decrescendo pattern with an effective climax at the top of the arch. The songs whet the appetite for a full recording of one of the operatic scores. In sum, this is an important entry in the discography non-academic Twentieth Century American music.