CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2. Solo Piano Works
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968) left us with a body of concert works as individual and memorable as his more than 250 film scores: they all seem to suffer from the same lack of a distinctive voice. The two concertos, both in three movements and written in a harmonically conservative idiom, date from 1927 and 1937 respectively. Stravinsky and the Second Viennese School have passed him by, but not the impressionists, though he is by no means in thrall to them. Patchily distinctive melody and lush, colourful orchestration are Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s strongest cards, harnessed to some daunting challenges for the soloist. Pietro Massa rises to these superbly, pushing the music forwards in the often tempestuous and rhythmically complex outer movements, while demonstrating a keenly sensitive touch in the two central Romanzas. Stefan Malzew provides alert support in these performances, recorded in a live concert broadcast by DeutschlandRadio Berlin in 2010. There is really little to choose between these and Alessandro Marangoni partnered by Andrew Mogrelia on Naxos (issued last year), notwithstanding the latter’s marginally faster tempi throughout Concerto No 1 and slower ones in No 2.
The Naxos coupling, however, is the Four (rather dreary) Dances from Love’s Labours Lost and I was, frankly, more intrigued and impressed than I was with either the concertos or the Dances by Massa’s second disc of piano solos. He opens with a lavishly rhapsodic piece called La sirenetta e il pesce turchino (‘The Little Mermaid and the Blue Fish’, 1920), which at 9'46" would grace any recital programme paired, perhaps, with the atmospheric I naviganti (‘The Seafarers’) from 1919. In the seven brief movements of Le danze di Re David, subtitled ‘Hebrew Rhapsody on Traditional Themes’, Castelnuovo-Tedesco explores his Jewish roots. Here and in Passatempi (five ‘piccoli’ waltzes), Pietro Massa’s affectionate response deserves the highest praise. Could he have invested a little more vim and humour in the Two Film Studies, ‘Charlie’ and ‘Mickey Mouse’ (1931)? These are world premiere recordings, as are two other virtuoso studies, but not, as claimed, the characterful mazurka Hommage à Paderewski. That honour goes to Jonathan Plowright.