Top 10 Italian composers

Gramophone Wed 1st June 2016

To mark Italy's Republic Day on June 2, we celebrate ten of our favourite Italian composers...

Giovanni Palestrina

Palestrina is acknowledged as the greatest composer of the Catholic Church and one of the finest masters of classical polyphonic writing. He is still held up as a model for students.

Recommended recording:

Masses and Motets
Tallis Scholars / Peter Phillips
(Gimell)
'The Tallis Scholars make the most of the contrasted blocks of sound here, achieving, as we have come to expect, an impressive vocal blend and balance.' Review

Read more on Palestrina and discover the essential recordings 


Domenico Scarlatti

Scarlatti produced the vast body of instrumental music for which he’s best known, and in particular the keyboard sonatas - works that extended the genre immeasurably.

Recommended recording:

Keyboard Sonatas
Mikhail Pletnev pf 
(Virgin)
'As the kaleidoscope turns you marvel at the composer who could embrace such diversity and shape it and put it all on to the keyboard. No wonder Chopin found Scarlatti a kindred spirit.' Review

Read more on Scarlatti and discover the essential recordings


Ottorino Respighi

Respighi became one of the century's most masterly orchestrators, fond of splashy, flamboyant effects. All his score's are notable for their imaginative, luscious harmonies and 'sound colour'.

Recommended recording:

Roman Trilogy 
Santa Cecilia Academy Orchestra / Sir Antonio Pappano
(EMI)

'These are unashamed picture-postcards in music, and the images they evoke are always exceptionally vivid.' Review

Read more on Respighi and discover the essential recordings


Arcangelo Corelli

Corelli was the main founder of modern orchestral playing and the composer who fashioned two new musical forms, the Baroque trio and solo sonata, and the concerto grosso.

Recommended recording:

Concerti Grossi
The English Concert / Trevor Pinnock
(Archiv)
'These are truly inspired performances that should give great pleasure to all who listen to them and which surely merit the commendation of their peers.' Review

Read more on Corelli and discover the essential recordings 

 

Gaetano Donizetti

Donizetti was a truly prolific opera composer, he could turn out as many as three or four a year and was said to have sketched and written the last act of La favorita in a few hours.

Recommended recording:

Don Pasquale
Renato Bruson bass Don Pasquale Eva Mei sop Norina Frank Lopardo ten Ernesto Thomas Allen bar Dr Malatesta Alfredo Giacomotti bass Notary, Bavarian Radio Chorus; Munich Radio Orchestra / Roberto Abbado
(Red Seal)
'As the recording here is exemplary as compared with the EMI (too reverberant) and the Erato (singers sometimes too backward), this version would now be my outright recommendation.' Review

Read more on Donizetti and discover the essential recordings 


Claudio Monteverdi

Monteverdi can be justly considered one of the most powerful figures in the history of music. His most notable works include the opera Orfeo and one of the greatest of all sacred pieces, the 1610 Vespers.

Recommended recording:

Vespers
Tavener Concert, Choir and Players / Andrew Parrott
(EMI)
'A fascinating and fine interpretation, worthy of sincere recommendation.' Review 

Read more on Monteverdi and discover the essential recordings  

 

Gioachino Rossini

'Delight must be the basis and aim of this art,' Rossini wrote. 'Simple melody – clear rhythm!' Rossini's contribution to the development of opera was immense; where he led, Bellini and Donizetti followed.

Recommended recording:

Stabat Mater
Anna Netrebko sop Joyce DiDonato mez Lawrence Brownlee ten Ildebrando D'Arcangelo bass; Santa Cecilia Academy Chorus and Orchestra / Sir Antonio Pappano
(EMI)

'The pairing of Anna Netrebko and Joyce DiDonato is a marriage made in musical heaven.' Review

Read more on Rossini and discover the essential recordings 


Antonio Vivaldi

With Antonio Vivaldi, Italian Baroque music reached its zenith. The prosperous, cultivated world of contemporary Venice shines through all his works, composed with innate craftsmanship.

Recommended recording:

Concerti for Violin and Strings, La stravaganza
Arte de Suonatori / Rachel Podger vn
(Channel Classics)
'The La stravaganza set is quite extravagant stuff, full of fantasy and experiment – novel sounds, ingenious textures, exploratory melodic lines, original types of figuration, unorthodox forms. Review

Read more on Vivaldi and discover the essential recordings 


Giacomo Puccini

Whatever atmosphere he wanted to create, Puccini’s sound world is unmistakeable with its opulent yet clear-cut orchestration and a miraculous fund of melodies with their bittersweet, tender lyricism.

Recommended recording:

Tosca
Maria Callas sop Giuseppe di Stefano ten Tito Gobbi bar Franco Calabrese bass Melchiorre Luise bass Angelo Mercuriali ten Alvaro Cordova treb Dario Caselli bass; Chorus and Orchestra of La Scala, Milan / Victor de Sabata
(EMI)

'Wonderful as Gobbi's and di Stefano's performances are, and superbly dramatic as de Sabata's conducting is, it is the performance of the unique Callas in the title role that provides the greatest marvel.' Review

Read more on Puccini and discover the essential recordings 


Giuseppe Verdi

Verdi had the ability to dream up glorious melodies with an innate understanding of the human voice, to express himself directly, to understand the theatre, and to score with technical brilliance, colour and originality.

Recommended recording:

Messa da Requiem
Anja Harteros sop Sonia Ganassi mez Rolando Villazón ten René Pape bass; Santa Cecilia Academy Chorus and Orchestra / Sir Antonio Pappano
(EMI)
'It is wonderful to hear the Requiem so memorably revealed as the dramatic and meditative masterpiece it clearly is.' Review

Read more on Verdi and discover the essential recordings


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