Little-known but spellbinding late-Romantic sonatas receiving only their second complete recording: essential listening for collectors of Romantic-era rarities.
With well-received albums of his piano trios, piano music and music for chamber orchestra, Brilliant Classics has expanded the horizons of many listeners to Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (1876-1948). Previously known principally for his operatic and dramatic works such as I Gioelli della Madonna, Wolf-Ferrari built up a body of instrumental music that was played across Europe during his lifetime. Association with Mussolini’s Fascist regime cast a shadow over his postwar reputation and only in recent years have listeners been able to rediscover the music of an inveterate Romantic.
The First Violin Sonata was written while the 19-year-old Wolf-Ferrari was still studying with Joseph Rheinberger in Munich. However, its long-breathed melodies and grasp of large-scale form bely its composer’s relative inexperience. The eminent musicologist Wilhelm Altmann recognised its qualities: ‘The Sonata merits attention on account of its extraordinary freshness and beauty of tone colour… A quite original and exceedingly charming effect is produced by the second movement.’
All the same, the Brahmsian contours of the First Sonata are succeeded in the Second by a more personal idiom, one that more successfully integrates Wolf-Ferrari’s lifelong allegiances to both German and Italian schools of composition. Dating from 1901, it sings with a stern, almost austere passion . rather in the manner of the composer’s Belgian contemporary César Franck; the second of the sonata’s two movements has an especially sacred character and ends in a mood of serenity.
The Third Sonata is a very late work, dating from 1943, while Wolf-Ferrari was giving concert tours through Axis countries. In parallel with the evolution of the trio of sonatas by Brahms, this E major work has a neoclassical character maintained throughout the suppressed passion of its four compact movements: there is even an excursion into strict counterpoint in the first movement’s development section, and the finale returns to the work’s opening theme, now touched by both irony and tenderness.
With its wealth of subtlety, the Third Sonata in particular deserves wider attention, which it should receive thanks to the splendid advocacy of the Italian violinist Davide Alogna. This is his third album for Brilliant Classics, after an originally conceived album of violin-and-orchestra Romances (95896) and a unique collection of violin-and-viola concertante works by Mozart, Bruch and Ponce (95241).
Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (1876-1948) is a composer difficult to classify. A child of his time he kept aloof from the innovations of the modernists and dodecaphony. As son of a German father and a noble-born Venetian mother he was born in Venice and went to study in Munich. He became famous as an opera composer. His style is romantic, tinged with impressionism and the odd neoclassical hint. His aim was to create a “universal beauty” in his works, where no rules apply, but only a feeling of well-being and sensuousness.
The keyword in this recording of the complete three Violin Sonatas is “Beauty”: far from the avant-garde and even from realism, he sought an ideal of timeless beauty, independent from the artistic movements of the moment, and for this reason he was often inspired in his works by eighteenth-century grace.
Beautiful, idiomatic performances by the excellent Italian violinist David Alogna and pianist Costantino Catena, who both previously recorded for Brilliant Classics, o.a. works by Wolf Ferrari (piano works).