Alfredo Casella: Sinfonia per Orchestra, Op. 63; Italia, Op. 11Expressionismus: Expressionism in Music
It troubles me that Italy's finest 20th Century composer, Alfredo Casella, still receives distain from some critical circles. No doubt, his documented admiration for Mussolini and his adherence to Fascist dogma has not warmed him to some musical hearts. But the composer's advocacy to such heinous beliefs is by no means clear cut. His second wife was Jewish and he counted Castelnuovo-Tedesco among his friends. In a world which has embraced Wagner despite his blatant anti-Semitism the neglect of Casella does not seem justified. But certainly those unsavory believes may have had some residual effects on such prominent composers such as D'Indy, Pfitzner, and Von Schillings. Nevertheless, Casella's credentials are impeccable: he attended Faure's composition classes with Ravel and Koechlin. In Paris, his circle of friends included Stravinsky and Enescu, and he was highly influenced at one point in his career by Mahler and Richard Strauss.
Recently we have received the gift of two fine recordings of Casella's Sinfonia per orchestra (Symphony No. 3). The first, conducted by Alun Fracis with the WDR Koln on CPO, is a triumph and is the finer of the two recordings, but not by a wide margin. The newer recording, conducted by Francesco LaVecchia with the Rome Symphony Orchestra on Naxos, is hardly an also-ran; in fact, I'd consider it the finest of the Naxos cycle. While the timings of the movements are similar, it seems that Francis is the more probing, LaVecchia the more fiery and contemporary. The CPO recording is more refined, and the orchestra is magnificent. The Naxos recording is slightly richer than the others in the series, and the orchestra, while not perfect, gives a fine accounting. The influences to this symphony are recognizable: Honegger, Hindemith, and Shostakovich. This symphony comes before the final phase of Casella's exploration, when Casella fully embraced neo-Classicism.
These recordings have excellent fill-ups. The CPO presents the colorful Italia, a darkly colored, Respighi-like tone poem that ends in a joyous tarantella to "Funiculi, Funicula." The Naxos gives us the angry and sorrowful Elegia eroica, a tribute to the victims of the First World War. LaVecchia's version is fantastic, but the version to be found on Signum's "Expressionismus" set, conducted by Nikos Athinaos is even more poignant.
To sum up, both of these recordings will provide much pleasure.