Maderna: Piano Concertos, Quadrivium / Orvieto, Miotto, Bongelli

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MADERNA Piano Concerto. 1 Piano Concerto (version for 2 pianos 2 ) . Concerto for 2 Pianos 3. Quadrivium 4 1,2,3 Aldo Orvieto, 2,3 Fausto Bongelli (pn); 1,3,4 Carlo Miotto, cond; 3 Gruppo 40.6; 1,4 Arena di Verona O NAXOS 8.572642 (66:32)

Bruno Maderna (1920–73) was an Italian postwar composer and conductor. He studied composition with Gian Francesco Malipiero in the early 1940s; it was Malipiero whom he felt was not only a great teacher, but who also gave to him an appreciation of earlier music. Around the same time he studied conducting with Guarnieri at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana, Siena; he proved to be gifted in this respect as well. He later attended an international course in conducting in Venice with none other than Hermann Scherchen, the great German conductor who was highly interested in contemporary music. During the 1950s Maderna worked to revitalize the musical scene in Italy. One of the major projects, which came to fruition in 1955, was the founding of the Studio di Fonologia Musicale of the RAI. This allowed both Maderna and Berio to work further in their experimentations with electronic forms of music-making. By the 1960s he was conducting more than ever. He worked with some of the most prestigious orchestras in the world at the time—New York, Chicago, Amsterdam, and Cleveland, to name just a few—conducting everything from contemporary works and Mahler symphonies to Mozart and Debussy operas. Compositionally, he remained equally interested in a wide range of music throughout his life—dodecaphonic, early Venetian and Flemish, electronic; everything was filtered through his keen mind. He died—too young—at the age of 53.

The first three works on the current recital (of which the two versions of the Piano Concerto are premiere recordings) are all short works—all between 11 and 12 minutes. The Piano Concerto (1942) is an early work. It sounds a bit like a mixture of Bartók, Berg, and perhaps Hindemith, though there is already a unique sound that shines through. The work is contrapuntal, well orchestrated, and highly melodic. It is above all else a pleasure to listen to. The version from 1946 for two pianos sounds almost like an x-ray of the music by comparison. It is fascinating to have these two versions side by side, as many of the details that get lost through the addition of numerous tone colors are all of a sudden brought to the fore; the piece sounds new. One can hear that the 1940s saw Maderna seeking new avenues of expression. The Concerto for Two Pianos (1948) is far away from the sound world of the previous two works. It begins with a mysterious air to it, using few notes and just the pianos to create its mood. It becomes more animato as the composition progresses, adding more and different percussion instruments into the mix, erupting at times, receding at others. It ends with a torrent of timbres. Quadrivium (1969) is a late work. Lasting some 31 minutes, it is the longest work on the recording. It is composed of four percussionists and four orchestral groups, symbolizing the four liberal arts—arithmetic, algebra, music, and astronomy. It is the most experimental of his works on the disc, featuring strict serial writing, aleatoric moments, and counterpoint, and is infused with a sense of exploration of sonorities. I can’t say that this type of music will be for everyone, but repeated listenings help in the appreciation and understanding of this music. I can only say that I have been rewarded in the process.

The musicians on this recording give the sense that they have studied and love this music—and there is much to be loved, even by the casual listener. The early works, in particular, are delightful in sound and conception, while the later works, though more complex, are also quite engaging; just be prepared for a good deal of writing for percussion instruments. The sound quality is excellent—each instrument literally pops out of the mix when required. The numerous changes in color on the piano are captured vividly here as well. Overall this is a very fine release of music that should be better known, more listened to, and in the end cherished.

FANFARE: Scott Noriega

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 8572642

  • UPC: 747313264278

  • Label: Naxos

  • Composer: Bruno Maderna

  • Conductor: Carlo Miotto

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Gruppo 40.6, Verona Teatro Arena Orchestra

  • Performer: Aldo Orvieto, Fausto Bongelli