ARTEK Recordings

Reviews of CD 2

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Nicolas Flagello

1. Classics Today

American/Italian composer Nicolas Flagello was born in New York, but spent a good part of his career as conductor of the Rome Symphony Orchestra. His music reflects his extensive experience as a conductor, being superbly scored and structured with a sure hand. Stylistically, it belongs squarely in the American neo-classical tradition of composers like Piston, Giannini (Flagello's teacher), Persichetti, Creston, and Menin (all of whom were also first generation Americans of Italian origin). The music is appealing, propulsive, and very passionate, rising to climaxes of real intensity and excitement. The two piano concertos are marvelously written for the soloist: they sound like great fun to play, and they contain many moments of pure magic (such as the way the Second Concerto's opening movement melts into the ensuing Andante). Credendum, for violin and orchestra, would make a great concert companion to Chausson's Poeme, and it's very well played by Elmar Oliveira. In fact, pianist Tatjana Rankovich is no slouch either. Her playing in the two concertos has real glitter and Romantic sweep. Toss in the two charming overtures, and the result is a first rate tribute to a very fine, neglected composer.
- David Hurwitz

2. Fanfare

FLAGELLO Overture Burlesca, Piano Concertos:   No. 2: No. 3. Credendum, for Violin and Orchestra. A Goldoni Overture David Amos, cond; Slovak PO, Kosice; Tatjana Rankovich (pn); Elmar Oliveira (vn) ARTEK AR 0002-2 (72:00)  

Back at mid century it was customary to say that composers then writing in a neo-Romantic idiom had been born after their time.   But now that the jerry-built house of serialism and its spinoffs has come tumbling down, one can safely affirm without risk of demurral that an American like Giannini pupil Nicolas Flagello (1928-94) can be said to have been born too early. If Flagello were a contemporary of today’s born-again postmodernists who have rediscovered tonality (out of a mix of genuine conversion and opportunistic bandwagon-hopping, one can speculate), he would be acclaimed alongside all the Danielpours and Pickers and Kernises and Daughtertys who are now riding high on the tide of tuneful traditionalism. The question would still be: Do any of these late bloomers do their Rachmaninov-Sam Barber thing with the degree of developmental enterprise and emotional authenticity of a Flagello?   This listener’s response would be a roof-clattering “No!”

             This reissue—on a more professional label than the original deletion-mad Vox—of five topflight Flagello pieces (reviewed by this writer back in the mid 90s) includes two riveting piano concertos, two rousing overtures, and a ravishing one-movement quasiconcerto for violin.   It is strongly recommended to all recent converts to the new neo-Romantic creed.   They’ll hear it done with greater force and imagination by someone who never turned his back on his innate impulses and creative tenets.   Go out and explore for yourself.   Paul A. Snook


3. Fanfare  

            Woody Allen was only spelling out the obvious when he made Gershwin’s music—the Piano Concerto foremost—cognate with the Manhattan skyline and the glittering, glamorous dynamism of American life.   But what happens when this fundamentally optimistic vision is overtaken by an awareness of the mean streets beneath the neon shimmer, survival beset by anxiety and killing speed, the dreadlocks of precarious love, the grotesquerie of the glamour, the grief in the glitter?   The upshot is the music of Nicolas Flagello, and its quintessence makes the works on this disc—a stunning coup de theatre of premiere recordings produced by Fanfare’s Walter Simmons.   Originally issued as Vox 7521 to critical acclaim (see Fanfare 19:6), the word was hardly out before it was abruptly deleted.   Well, it’s back—with the original fine annotations and the concerto movements newly tracked—and Artek vows to keep it permanently available, as well it should, for it’s an American classic.   Tatjana Rankovich not only studied with the composer, she plays the demanding piano parts with winning pizzazz.   Elmar Oliveira—need it be said?—is a violinist of the first rank.   And the Kosiee band laces into Flagello’s rich scoring like a bunch of Brooklyn boys on a spree.   If the Credendum sends the violinist on a mantic descent into a strange personal underworld, it is balanced by the overtures, compounded of an Italianate bizarrerie (not unworthy of Busoni in his Chianti moods), angst and sheer scintillation.   Above all, Flagello’s piano concertos are among the most persuasively successful post-Rachmaninov essays in the genre—substantial, gripping, truculent, and the more compelling for having wrought lyrically arched triumph against the grain of the life we know.   And that’s to say that this is music to live with, returning, so to speak, compound interest.   Immediately transparent sound within a spacious aural frame.   Splendid!   And not merely recommended enthusiastically but urged upon you.   Adrian Corleonis

4. Classical Music on the Web - CD Reviews


Overture Burlesca (1952) Piano Concerto No 2 (1956) Credendum for violin and orchestra (1973) A Goldoni Overture (1967) Piano Concerto No 3 (1959) 

Tatjana Rankovich (piano) Elmar Oliveira (violin) Slovak PO/David Amos rec Kosice June 1995 ARTEK AR-0002-2 67.44 

Flagello's part in the 'Italian stream' in American classical music has received scant attention. He is a New Yorker through and through but a Puccinian passion dominates rather than jazz, the blues or sardonic frivolity. 

Mention of verismo operatic high jinks may be misleading. There is a touch of 'blood and thunder' but the 'bel canto' strain is more relevant. So it is a case of less Puccini and more early Malipiero, Respighi and Martucci. 

Credendum while essentially a singing work is a 'frosted glass'. If you know the Arthur Bliss Violin Concerto in its less exuberant episodes you will know what to expect. It is a matter of accent. The voice, though, is still locked deep in the bedrock of romantic tonality. Credendum (like the identically named orchestral work by William Schuman) refers to a statement of faith and this is a serious work of reflection with some rolling horn-lofted climaxes recalling the Aulis Sallinen First Symphony. If the cradled tenderness of the Walton and Barber violin concertos hits you towards the end (11.03) the soft gong strokes at the close provide an 'earth ' for the gleamingly spun introspection of the violin in the closing measures. 

The Goldoni Overture written as a 'vorspiel' to Giannini's final opera is not entirely the 'glitter and skitter' item you might have expected. Howard Hanson is a beneficent influence on the brass writing. The work has some of the zippy levity of Walton's Portsmouth Point - a character it shares with the Overture Burlesca which launches like an emotionally clipped version of the scherzo of the Moeran symphony. 

As the notes point out, the Third Piano Concerto is separated from No 2 by a decade. It is a steelier statement but the shapely grandeur of the climax at 7.10 leaves us in no doubt of Flagello's allegiance to the romantic impulse also much in evidence in the guileless slightly doom-ridden peak of the middle movement. With its tubular bells the movement strikes a note familiar from Alwyn's Symphony No. 5 Hydriotaphia - all cortège, funereal triumph and Sibelian resolve. The granitic finale lacks articulation. Its ghoulish mesmerising tone is straight out of Liszt's Totentanz and Herrmann's Concerto Macabre. 

The earlier piano concerto splices the heroics of the Arthur Bliss Piano Concerto with a Prokofievian élan. There is a frank tuneful impulse at work among the soliloquising and the barn-storming crescendi. I can imagine Flagello having enjoyed the Bortkiewicz Piano Concertos 2 and 3 as much as Bortkiewicz might have enjoyed Flagello's. Rachmaninov was also an influence - listen to 4.48 in the allegro giusto. In the second movement we encounter cooling and leaf touched woodwind writing with the eerie bell tones of Shostakovich's Second Piano Concerto. Blissy heroism, now sulphur-dosed, rears up again for the finale. As in the earlier concerto Rankovitch is beyond negative criticism though the orchestra's intonation is sometimes, at the very least, suspect. 

Now Artek, let's have the first and fourth concertos on a single disc and with Rankovich as the soloist.

A strong recommendation for anyone who, having started exploration with the Naxos American Classics series, would like to delve deeper into 20th Century Romantic Americana.
Rob Barnett


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