It appears as though maestro Riccardo Muti has been reading the esoteric pick of the week. I’m obviously overstating the case there, but the Chicago Tribune has weighed in on Muti’s recent trip “...down nearly forgotten byways of the late 19th and early 20th-century Italian orchestral repertory.
Alfredo Catalani (1854-1893)
Why bring up the esoteric pick of the week? For the last few years I’ve lamented the wealth of dormant music written in the period between Wagner’s Parsifal and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Much of this music tends toward an homage to Wagnerian sentiments, but it’s still great music.
I’ve been wanting someone of import to begin championing this repertoire. It would appear as though Muti is my man.
The pieces in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert with music director Muti were Alfredo Catalani’s Contemplazione and a song cycle by Giuseppe Martucci. Catalani is a familiar name to some because of his opera La Wally, but that opera is only known primarily for one fantastic soprano aria.
Giuseppe Martucci (1856 –1909)
La Canzone dei Ricordi, Op. 68b (1887)
Having given Contemplazione a listen it’s a good piece of music, but, as is the standard criticism of all such music, it doesn’t exceed other similar pieces such as Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, either of Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending or Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, Mahler’s Adagietto, or Barber’s Adagio for Strings.
It’s a crowded field when it comes to this type of music. We could even consider Bach’s Air on the G String or Albinoni’s Adagio in g minor to be contenders from an earlier era.
Concerning the Martucci song cycle La Canzone dei Ricordi the Wagnerian homage is in full effect. Martucci was a conductor who championed Wagner’s music to Italian audiences. If the opening song isn’t an homage to the Liebestod then I’ll be a monkey’s uncle.
As the cycle progresses I felt myself drawn in, reveling in the nostalgic tone that the title suggests — ”The Song of Remembrance.” I can appreciate how the static dynamics of the piece might become soporific in a live concert.
All that being said, this isn’t a competition with winners and losers. Both these pieces of music are worth hearing and I’m ecstatic that maestro Muti is pulling this rep off of YouTube and into the concert hall.