CASELLA Symphony No 1. Symphonic Fragments
Gianandrea Noseda’s Casella reappraisal for Chandos, among his most significant achievements to date, has radically shifted our perspectives on one of the finest if most neglected Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation. The fourth instalment, the equal of its predecessors, flanks the Elegia eroica of 1916 with two works from Casella’s Paris period – the First Symphony of 1906 and the Symphonic Fragments from the 1913 ballet Le couvent sur l’eau. Both have slightly curious histories.
Finicky about his own music, Casella dismissed the symphony as juvenile and the ballet – it was offered to Diaghilev, who rejected it – as derivative, though we might now question his judgement in both cases. Le couvent sur l’eau evokes Venice as a place of decaying, sinister beauty, with faded allusions to Baroque suites, a dark, post-Impressionist tinge in the scoring and a disembodied soprano voice weaving its way through its textures. The symphony, meanwhile, reveals its influences a bit too obviously in places but shows a powerful dramatic imagination at work. There are echoes of Borodin in the ferocious first movement (Casella’s enthusiasm for Russian music was fostered by his teacher, Fauré) and of Mahler in the Adagio, which Casella, confusingly, also included, in a revised version, in his Second Symphony of 1908. His mature ability to filter his influences through his imagination to create something utterly original, meanwhile, informs the Elegia, which blends Mahlerian anguish with Stravinskian rhythmic violence in a lament for an unknown soldier killed in the First World War. It’s a shattering work, one of his greatest.
As with the series as a whole, the performances are exemplary. Noseda’s familiar combination of rigour and emotional extremism is in evidence throughout. The symphony seethes with tension and excitement, even in the lengthy finale where the material is occasionally repetitive. Elegia eroica, all the more powerful for being so tautly controlled, is even more unnerving here than in Noseda’s performance at the 2014 Proms, while Le couvent sur l’eau is all creepily effective detail and menacing grandeur. Gillian Keith is the aptly glacial-sounding soprano, and the playing throughout is terrific in its intensity and panache. Highly recommended.