Alfredo Catalani: Ero e Leandro; Contemplazione / La Vecchia


Where would we music lovers be without the Naxos label working doggedly to record the music of every deserving composer they can get their ears on? In this case, it's the orchestral music of Italian composer Alfredo Catalani, best known as a composer of opera (most notably for La Wally), but who also produced some youthful chamber works, three symphonies and other smaller pieces for orchestra. This program contains five works by Catalani, including two world premiere recordings, Andantino (?1871) and the symphony, Il Mattino 'Sinfonia romantica' (1874). In addition to the brief Andantino and Scherzo, the major work on the album is Catalani's beautiful symphonic poem, Era e Leandro (Hero and Leander) of 1884.

Catalani (1854-1893) studied composition at both the Paris Conservatoire and later at the Conservatory of Milan. Despite the growing trend in Italian opera toward the verismo style exemplified at the time by the work of Pietro Mascagni, Ruggero Leoncavallo and Umberto Giordano, Catalani maintained a manner that was rather more traditional. His style most closely resembles that of Puccini, with influences coming from Wagner and the French expression of Massenet and Gounod. He was a marvelous orchestrator and could be a rather daring harmonist, creating highly evocative and atmospheric music.

The sunny Scherzo of 1878, a piece that also exists in a form for solo piano, is the sample provided in the right sidebar. Quite different from this brief piece is Contemplazione, a sumptuous twelve minutes of aural velvet you can hear in the video below. All this music is beautifully performed by conductor Francesco La Vecchia and the Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma, the same team that has been bringing us the popular series of orchestral music by another Italian, Alfredo Casella. If you are not familiar with that series, do yourself a favor and check it out. There are plenty of sound clips to hear off the Casella page on the HBDirect website.

Another performance from this album, listen to the Catalani's dark and sumptuous Contemplazione