Ponchielli Orchestral Works

Author: 
Michael Oliver

Ponchielli Orchestral Works

  • Elegia, 'Sulla tomba di Garibaldi'
  • Sinfonia
  • Sinfonia
  • Scena campestre
  • (I) Lituani, Sinfonia
  • (I) promessi sposi, Sinfonia
  • Gavotte poudrée

Except for the success of La Gioconda Ponchielli's rather short career was a sequence of rebuffs, disappointments and rotten luck, and posterity has been no kinder to him than his contemporaries were. One of these fine days somebody will record one of those operas—I Lituani, Il figliuol prodigo, I promessi sposi or Marion Delorme—which enthusiasts from time to time claim to be much better than the one we do know. While listening to his orchestral music, though, you have to hang pretty tightly on to your memories of La Gioconda's genuine qualities, for there's little on this disc to suggest that Ponchielli was even an especially competent composer. Most of the pieces here are short-breathed, predictably and noisily scored, with such ideas as they have simply stuck together, occasionally extended by sequence or mechanically repeated to form a crescendo, but with no development or even variation. You wouldn't expect much more, perhaps, in a student piece like the Scena campestre, a sort of mini-Pastoral Symphony with organ and bells evoking a rustic chapel, broken into with comic effect by the first skippings of a broken-backed country dance. But the Elegia in memory of Garibaldi is a 'mature' work, and its two commonplace themes are no more than absently permutated.
The melodic writing throughout, indeed, is undistinguished, faded Rossini and watered-down Donizetti, mostly. Only in the two opera overtures does Ponchielli manage to find decently sustained melodies, and the assumption that they are lifted from the operas in question might imply that the longer and more satisfying lines found here and in La Gioconda are due to a need for the human voice as a stimulus. The two Sinfonias, so called, in effect overtures in search of operas, are really desperately poor stuff.
The Minsk Philharmonic, competent but no more, are closely and rather glaringly recorded. Bongiovanni allow a gap of about two seconds between items, a vacant pause rather shorter than some of Ponchielli's own.'

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