Concerto No. 2 for Cello (1973)
Concerto for Strings (1977)
Trio for Clarinet, cello & Piano (1973)
Enrico Bronzi, I Musici di Parma
At least two impressed me tremendously about this program of three major works by Nino Rota (1911-1978). The first was the way in which the composer gets right to the heart of the matter, launching right into the substance of all three works without any preface or slow introduction. We see in this the discipline carefully honed in decades as a film composer, a field in which you are not permitted the luxury of any time at all to make an impression on your audience. There is no fat on any of these works. As in Rota’s film scores for Federico Fellini, the emotion is direct and incisive. As in his film music, Rota is marvelously adept at conjuring up just the right mood, whether it be spontaneous joy, sadness, or melancholy, bringing a sparkle or a tear to our eye in the process. He often reflected on “the eternal dilemma – how can we be happy amid the unhappiness of others?” Consequently, his music can be beautiful or grotesque, it can verge on tragedy or lift our spirits playfully, and all without any trace of the neurosis too often evident in modern music. To do so, for the composer, requires a whole, balanced view of life. That is perhaps harder to find outside of Rota’s Italy than we might imagine.
The zestful performances by Enrico Bronzi and I Musici di Parma (despite the sound of their name, not a small chamber ensemble but an orchestra of 35 pieces with a compliment of woodwinds to balance the strings) keep things moving right along, never losing the deft, incisive pulse that is a trademark of this composer. The performances of cellist Bronzi and the other members of the Trio di Parma, which include clarinetist Alessandro Carbonare and pianist Alberto Miodini, are warm and gracious without departing from the strong, dominant rhythms that predominate in both the Cello Concerto and the Trio. In these works, as in the Concerto for Strings, one is impressed by both the verve and the economy of Rota’s writing. His writing for the strings, which are the soul of the orchestra, both structurally and expressively, is inspired. If the harmonic richness and the process by which the composer moves from one harmony to another in the Clarinet Trio is essentially Romantic (reminding me inescapably of Brahms, who wrote another major work in the same genre), the ferocity with which he takes the finale movement of the Concerto for Strings reminded me of Shostakovich, again without either the bitter irony or the grotesque humor that the Russian composer might have employed. Inescapably, visual images of Giulietta Massina, the funny yet pathetic heroine of Fellini’s La Strada, kept popping into my mind while listening to this music. Rota’s art is a subtle one.
The other thing that impressed me about this offering from Concerto Music-Media was the recorded sound, which was startlingly real and naturalistic, as if one were in the actual presence of performers. This is truly audiophile-class sound. It is claimed that this is a 64-bit digital recording. If so, it is the first time I can recall seeing any CD offering so advertised.