I have this incurable habit of liking what others might call ‘second rate’ music, music which has never won mass approval, and therefore for many people, waits to be discovered. I carry this hope that composers of undoubted talent but no great popularity might one day be more widely recognised and valued. Several of them belong to the pastoral, or as it has been unfairly characterised the ‘cow-pat’, tradition of English music, much of it written in the earlier part of the last century. Frank Bridge (Benjamin Britten’s mentor), Gordon Finzi, and George Butterworth who was killed in the 1914-18 war, are amongst them. Clearly, however, Gian Francesco Malipiero is not.
Malpiero is one of a generation of Italian composers born around 1880 and known as the ‘generazione dell’Ottanta’. Influenced by early music as well as by French and Russian contemporary composers, Malpiero was born in Venice and for most of his long life, lived in that region, eventually settling in the little hill town of Asolo.
He devoted much of his life to editing the neglected works of such composers as Monteverdi (1567-1643) and Frescobaldi(1583-1343), but wrote an enormous amount of music himself – including thirty operas and eleven numbered and six unnumbered symphonies. Too much perhaps, and indeed he was very critical of pieces from his earlier years, which he didn’t feel properly represented him at his best.
The indefatigable Naxos label (devoted to discovering and recording neglected music ) are releasing all of his numbered symphonies, and as I write I am listening to the first of these CD’s, originally published more than ten years ago on their more expensive Marco Polo label. The late Antonio de Almeida conducts the Moscow Symphony Orchestra in Symphonies No. 3 (‘delle Campane’) and No. 4 (‘in memoriam’). The symphonies are full of imaginative touches, luminously scored and showing the influence of Stravinsky and Debussy.
The slow movement of the 4th. Symphony is particularly beautiful, although I have learned that the climaxes in both works can be socially unacceptable (‘turn the sound down!’).
But it is the youthful one-movement and unnumbered Symphony of the Sea on this disc that is giving me a special pleasure. Never published, it is more a tone poem than a symphony (apparently Malpiero had little time for the Austro-German tradition where you know where you are coming from and where you are going to). Well named, it is an attractive and evocative piece that will repay repeated listening.