January 25, 2024


Luigi Perrachio: Piano Quintet; Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco: Piano Quintet No. 1. David Korevaar, piano; Carpe Diem String Quartet (Amy Galluzzo and Marisa Ishikawa, violins; Korine Fujiwara, viola; Ariana Nelson, cello). Da Vinci Classics. $16.99.

     The focus and immense success of opera as the dominant form of Italian classical music in the 19th century led, inevitably, to a pendulum-swing reaction in the early 20th by Italian composers determined to chart a new, purely instrumental course that was beholden neither to the stage nor to the approach of the Germanic compositional school. Perhaps the best-known composer advocating new Italian instrumental music was Respighi, who turned decidedly to the past in seeking the future – finding forms and structures from older times that could be adapted with modern harmonies while retaining much of their original rhythmic and expressive charm. Respighi (1879-1936) managed to meld a certain degree of Russian orchestral color with some of the opulence of Richard Strauss into forms derived from earlier periods, producing music of genuine originality.

     And Respighi was scarcely the only Italian of his era seeking to reinvigorate the Italian instrumental genre. Others with similar aims were Respighi’s almost completely forgotten contemporary, Luigi Perrachio (1883-1966), and the somewhat later and better-known Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968). A fascinating new Da Vinci Classics CD provides an unusual opportunity to hear a juxtaposition of piano quintets by these two composers, including the world première recording of Perrachio’s.

     Perrachio’s Quintet, which dates to 1919, is a stylistic amalgam that mixes elements of neoclassicism with post-Romantic gestural sweep, pastoral material and outright playfulness – including multiple references to the opening of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. Its pervasive dissonance contrasts with the richness of the instrumentation – the unison passages have particular force, especially in the very extended first movement (longer than the third and fourth combined). The second, shortest movement is a puckish and ebullient Scherzo with sparer instrumentation and delicacy that contrasts strongly with the rather massive sound of the opening movement; this is where the reference to Beethoven’s Fifth first appears. This quintet lacks a genuinely slow movement of the type associated with Romanticism: the third movement is marked Allegretto semplice and has a rather pretty pastoral flavor and the sense of being an interlude or intermezzo. The finale is the opposite of profound: joyous and lithe, it has a perky ebullience that repeatedly dips into the realm of folk dances. The strong and serious unison material of the coda comes as something rather unexpected and brings this fascinating – if somewhat disconnected-sounding – work to a forceful conclusion. David Korevaar, under whose supervision the work was published (as recently as 2022!), integrates the piano sound very effectively with that of the Carpe Diem String Quartet, and the performance as a whole evinces sincerity, understanding, and a deep respect for the music and the composer.

     The first of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s two Piano Quintets is a later work than Perrachio’s, dating to 1932. Castelnuovo-Tedesco was well-known and well-thought-of in the 1920s, but was forced into exile after Mussolini matched Italy’s anti-Semitic laws to Hitler’s. In exile, Castelnuovo-Tedesco wrote music in Hollywood, was the teacher of John Williams and Henry Mancini (among others), and became well-known for the guitar pieces he began composing after meeting Andrés Segovia in 1932 – the year of this Quintet. This work is in many ways more Romantic (or post-Romantic) than Perrachio’s, drawing on Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Jewish roots and his memories of his native Tuscany (his second Quintet, which dates to 1951, is actually subtitled “Memories of the Tuscan Countryside”). Like Perrachio’s work, Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s is front-weighted, but it is overall a more-balanced piece: the finale is almost as long as the first movement. There is a sense of expansiveness in this Quintet from its first notes, and Castelnuovo-Tedesco sticks to traditional form and tonality to a greater extent than does Perrachio – but Castelnuovo-Tedesco uses tonality in an interesting way, moving the Quintet from a start in F to a conclusion in D while fully exploiting the differing color characteristics of those and other keys as the piece progresses. The work is pervasively tender and lyrical, its moderately slow second-movement Andante being more emotive than Perrachio’s third-movement Allegretto semplice. Castelnuovo-Tedesco neatly produces a third-movement Scherzo: Leggero e danzante that would be quite awkward to dance with its constant rhythmic changes, but that retains considerable verve and spirit throughout. The Quintet concludes with a dark, passionate movement that hints – at least to an audience hearing it retrospectively – of the societal upheavals occurring when the work was written. In all, this piece feels more thoroughly integrated and emotionally pointed than Perrachio’s somewhat more discursive Quintet. The performers, to their credit, explore Castelnuovo-Tedesco with the same sense of engagement and understanding that they bring to Perrachio – the result being a thoroughly appealing CD featuring two pieces that certainly confirm their composers’ success in helping to re-establish the importance of pure instrumental music with a distinct Italian flair.

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