Italy's Alfredo Casella has been talked up as the great unknown composer of the first half of the 20th century. He was influenced by Debussy, Mahler, Schoenberg, and Stravinsky in turn, yet he mixed and matched elements of their styles with a distinctive formal imagination. Casella was largely responsible for the reintroduction of Vivaldi to the musical world, and some of the neo-classic music he composed later in his career had direct Baroque references. This album lacks that aspect of his work, but these three pieces, each made up of short chunks of music, probably offer an easier introduction to Casella than do the weightier symphonies. The Concerto for orchestra, loosely neo-classical, appeared in 1938 and thus lay between Hindemith's and Bartók's works with the same title. A notte alta (1921), with a solo piano part tracing a noctural meeting between two lovers, was likely inspired by Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht. In between the two come the Symphonic Fragments from La Donna Serpente, a set of orchestral excerpts from a failed opera. The Concerto for Orchestra, with its combination of unusual movement forms and brilliant orchestration, is the strongest of the three works. Sample the middle movement, a passacaglia that blooms into a constantly evolving set of 14 variations. A notte alta, designated "Poema musicale per pianoforte ed orchestra," is evocatively handled by pianist Martin Roscoe, and the work of the BBC Philharmonic under the indefatigable Gianandrea Noseda is consistently strong. It's a little hard to tell where the personal artistic compulsion lies in Casella's music, but everything here is worth hearing.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Concerto for orchestra, Op. 61|
|A notte alta, poema musicale per pianoforte ed orchestra, Op. 30|
|Symphonic Fragments from La donna serpente, Op. 50|