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MENOTTI - CHAMBER WORKS
various artists

 

 

 
1. Menotti, Gian Carlo [5:09]
Trio for violin clarinet & piano - I - Capriccio

2. Menotti, Gian Carlo [5:59]
Trio for violin clarinet & piano - II - Romanza

3. Menotti, Gian Carlo [2:33]
Trio for violin clarinet & piano - III - Envoi

4. Menotti, Gian Carlo [2:05]
Five Songs - I - The Eternal Prisoner

5. Menotti, Gian Carlo [1:41]
Five Songs - II - The Idle Gift

6. Menotti, Gian Carlo [3:54]
Five Songs - III - The Longest Wait

7. Menotti, Gian Carlo [3:47]
Five Songs - IV - My Ghost

8. Menotti, Gian Carlo [3:41]
Five Songs - V - The Swing

9. Menotti, Gian Carlo [10:25]
Cantelina e Scherzo for harp & string quartet

10. Menotti, Gian Carlo [1:51]
Canti Della Lontananza (i) Gli Amanti Impossibilii

11. Menotti, Gian Carlo [2:42]
Canti Della Lontananza (ii) Mattinata di Neve

12. Menotti, Gian Carlo [00:54]
Canti Della Lontananza (iii) Il Settimo Bicchiere di Vino

13. Menotti, Gian Carlo [2:14]
Canti Della Lontananza (iv) Lo Spettro

14. Menotti, Gian Carlo [1:35]
Canti Della Lontananza (v) Dorme Pegaso

15. Menotti, Gian Carlo [2:57]
Canti Della Lontananza (vi) La Lettera

16. Menotti, Gian Carlo [3:17]
Canti Della Lontananza (vii) Rassengnazione

Artist(s):
Marianne Thorsen, violin
Maximiliano Martin, clarinet
Julian Milford, piano
RTÉ Vanbrugh Quartet,
Gillian Tingay, harp
Christine Brewer, soprano
Roger Vignoles, piano


Gian Carlo Menotti passed away recently - in 2007 - and had been a force in musical life for over half a century. Born in Italy, he became a friend of Samuel Barber while studying, and it was largely this friendship which encouraged him to move to the USA. Though his home was in the USA, he always considered himself to be an Italian composer.


Menotti had great success with several operas, establishing himself as a leading opera composer of the post-war period. There is a natural, innate lyricism to his musical language; an unabashed deployment of attractive melodies, which allows him to communicate directly to a large audience who, in general, share his musical taste, loving the things he loved.
Menotti�s instrumental and vocal concert music has not attracted as much attention as his stage works, but his cantatas, concertos, song-cycles and other works all share the same musical virtues and attractiveness, creating vivid and compelling musical images, and benefitting from his instinctive sense of drama.

This CD of some of the best of his chamber music features:

a brand new recording of the Trio  for violin, clarinet & piano, alongside

Five Songs
- Cantilena e Scherzo for harp & string quartet

Canti Della Lontananza


 

 


Gian Carlo Menotti was born in Italy in 1911, but moved to America in 1928 to study at the Curtis Institute of Music, where he met his long-term partner, fellow-composer Samuel Barber. Throughout his life, Menotti felt a kinship with both his Italian heritage and the immediacy of American life. His musical style was direct and emotional, drawing upon the influences of Puccini and Mussorgsky especially, but encompassing a whole range of stylistic traits. Above all, Menotti was acutely conscious of reaching out to his audience. A prolific writer of stage works, his 1951 television opera Amahl and the Night Visitors brought opera to a new, wider public, and as co-founder of the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto in Italy, as well as its sister Spoleto Festival in South Carolina, Menotti lived out his belief that music is a gift to be celebrated and shared by all.

 

Menotti�s Trio was commissioned by the Verdehr Trio, though it took more than one request to motivate Menotti to write the work. Indeed, the Trio�s very existence is a testament to the value of perseverance. Violinist Walter Verdehr first wrote to Menotti in 1987, asking him to write a work for his chamber ensemble comprising violin, clarinet and piano. After several more letters, Menotti eventually accepted in 1989, but instructed Verdehr (�in the kindest way�) to call him regularly in order to ensure the work progressed. Verdehr duly took to calling Menotti, whose adopted son Francis and daughter-in-law Malinda became friends with the persistent violinist, helping him to nudge the composer into action.

 

In May 1995, Verdehr and his wife, the trio�s clarinettist Elsa Ludwig-Verdehr, visited Rome, where they met Menotti and his son. Menotti was there as director of Spoleto�s Festival of the Two Worlds, and promised to finish the piece in time for the Trio�s concert for the 50th Anniversary of the UN. In the end, only the slow movement materialised, and was duly performed. Menotti promised the rest by Christmas, but suffered a serious fall. As he recovered, he set to work again; the first movement was ready in time for a Spoleto Festival concert on 7 July 1996, and the whole piece was ready just in time for his 85th birthday concert in September � the last notes were written just before the performance.

 

The Capriccio begins with lively exchanges between clarinet and violin, creating a vivid sense of witty, at times even sardonic, conversation. The piano takes a more supportive but essential role, anchoring the entire work, which has stylistic traits in common with Prokofiev especially. Menotti once claimed:

 

�The Italians are very unmusical. If I go to a Protestant church in London or Amsterdam or listen to a black choir, I hear four-part harmony. Italians could never do that. In Italy we all have to sing the melody because we cannot harmonise.�

 

Though exaggerated for comic effect, Menotti�s words do offer an insight into the Trio�s reliance on melodic exchanges between the violin and clarinet and the piano�s less soloistic, more supportive material; it is as though Menotti was more comfortable writing single, melodic lines. Throughout the movement there is a recognisable sense of tonality, initially heard as gestures rather than clear melodies, until a lyrical tune unfolds on the violin, ushering in a new, softer, quality to the music. This is in turn answered by the clarinet, before both the opening, edgier dialogue and the lyrical material are developed, at times overlapping, at times juxtaposed. A final statement in octaves from all three musicians drives the movement to its close.

 

In contrast, the slow movement is pervaded with a nostalgic quality, with moments of introspection elaborated through recitative-like soliloquies. The finale opens with vigorous fugal writing, which then ebbs and flows between quicksilver, virtuosic exchanges and softer interjections. The clarinet introduces a more clearly melodic idea, but the music swiftly runs away with itself, creating a stream-of-consciousness effect. The piano is used more prominently than in opening movement, and there is a similar quality of spiky humour, a charming tussle between affectionate mutual regard and irascible competition.

 

When Menotti came to the Institute of United States Studies at London University in 1998 to hear the British premiere of the Trio, he said: �Unlike Victorian children, old composers should be heard and not seen,� adding that he knew he wasn't Bach but felt he wasn't Offenbach either.

 

Despite the quality of his instrumental output, Menotti�s great love musically was the undoubtedly the human voice. Opera and vocal works dominate his output, and even the instrumental works have a human, often conversational quality, the Trio being a fine example. In 1964 Menotti wrote:

 

�There is a certain indolence towards the use of the voice today, a tendency to treat the voice instrumentally, as if composers feared that its texture is too expressive, too human�.

 

Menotti�s own writing for voice resolutely avoids this angular �instrumental� quality, retaining a strong sense of melodic shape and emotional expression. His Five Songs were originally a set of four, written in 1981, with a fifth added in 1983; the composer wrote the English texts himself. Interestingly, the English language has a bearing on the music�s style; The Eternal Prisoner has a similar rugged, restless quality to composers of English pastoral songs such as Quilter.

 

The Idle Gift is initially more playful than The Eternal Prisoner, with a strong sense of melody and florid piano writing, but there is a sinister undercurrent � the song deals with avenging a wayward lover, and its flighty character is grounded by the sombre final chords.

 

In The Longest Wait the voice declares: �It is not love that I desire� but �the kiss of peace�. This is a searching, poignant song with a Schubertian sense of melodic shape, balanced by an illustrative piano accompaniment full of rhetorical gestures, such as the dramatic pause after �silenced�.

 

My Ghost boasts witty, almost Noel Cowardesque words, their intimate, story-telling character a perfect vehicle for flamboyant performance. In a moment of pathos, the ghost admits: �Earth bores me but heaven frightens me�. But humour prevails; one of Menotti�s great strengths was comedy and, as the Trio also demonstrates, he was a master of the amusing, throwaway ending.

 

The Swing returns us to more contemplative territory; the swing itself is used to represent life and its decay. The illustrative piano part shifts from undulating pleasure to chilling melancholy, with funereal piano chords recalling Chopin�s funeral march. Yet there is resolution at last, with the song�s final bars reaching a state of peaceful resignation.

 

Written in 1977, the Cantilena and Scherzo is another instance of Menotti�s use of singing lines in an instrumental context. Perhaps inevitably, the work has its roots in Ravel�s Introduction and Allegro and Debussy�s Danse sacrée et danse profane, but instead of separating the two movements, Menotti frames the Scherzo with the Cantilena�s lyrical material, creating a ternary structure. The very choice of the word �Cantilena� betrays Menotti�s preoccupation with vocal writing, and the result is suitably song-like, full of melodic richness, sustained string writing, and a resonating harp part. A passionate climax leads into the mercurial triple-rhythm Scherzo, before the Cantilena�s joyous return.

 

The Canti di Lontananza (�Songs of Distance�) were composed in 1967 for the great soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, who commissioned the cycle and who premiered it at Hunter College, New York with Martin Isepp at the piano. Menotti wrote both the text � in Italian � and music for these seven songs, all of which deal with aspects of loss and separation. Menotti�s relationship with Barber was suffering by this time; having written libretti for Barber�s operas Vanessa (1957) and A Hand of Bridge (1959), Menotti felt snubbed when Barber turned to Franco Zeffirelli for the libretto to Antony and Cleopatra. The opera was written for the opening of the new Metropolitan Opera House in 1966, but proved unsuccessful. Not long afterwards, Barber left the States for a period of solitude. Menotti later recalled:

 

�The only moment of bitterness that ever existed between Sam and me was because of Antony and Cleopatra� I was very hurt, because I was dying to write another libretto for him.�

 

There was a happier side to this time, however; Igor Stravinsky specifically requested that Menotti direct The Rake's Progress at the Hamburg Opera in 1967. Furthermore, Menotti overcame his unhappiness over Antony and Cleopatra so that, despite the end of their partnership, he still felt able to help Barber revise the libretto in 1975.

 

A further insight into Menotti�s state of mind as he wrote the Songs of Distance comes from his faith: �... I've always suffered guilt from being a Catholic; when I was in my fifties I felt a need of being needed.� This desire for acceptance coupled with Barber�s snub fed into the emotional language of the Songs of Distance; the result is some of Menotti�s most immediate and heart-felt music.

 

The cycle opens with Gli amanti impossibili (�Impossible lovers�), an intensely dramatic song, full of raw emotion that remains unresolved at the song�s end. Mattinata di neve (�Snowy morning�) bears the influence of Duparc; the shifting tonality between major and minor modes and the use of chromaticism create a sense of shifting emotion, wavering between exquisite recollection and poignant loss. There follows a moment of respite with the more light-hearted Il settimo bicchiere de vino (�The seventh glass of wine�), which has the quality of an operatic patter-song, ending with a witty piano flourish.

 

In contrast, Lo spettro (�The spectre�) plunges us into a suitably haunting, dark-hued sound-world that bears an affinity with the songs of Berg and Schoenberg. Dorme Pegaso is concise and enigmatic, its moments of almost whispering quiet lending it a child-like quality, while La lettera (�The letter�) is full of operatic rhetoric and mysterious, searching lines. The cycle ends with Rassegnazione (�Resignation�), a wistful song with rich melodic shaping. The relatively simple harmony is redolent of Fauré, but the opulent, Romantic gestures suggest the influence of Wolf�s songs. In places, the piano part has an almost Schubertian simplicity, but soon brims over with late-Romantic passion.

 

© Joanna Wyld, 2010


“[Menotti’s] chamber works also contain beguiling music: not only are they expertly crafted but they also come straight from the heart, as these fine performances show.”
Geoffrey Norris, The Telegraph

   
   

Copyright © 2017 Champs Hill Records