Various Artists

Bella Tuscany: Music Inspired by Tuscany

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A selection of music "inspired by Tuscany," such as the cover of this disc advertises, is a good idea. Too bad Bella Tuscany has next to none. There are instrumental or vocal versions of arias from several Puccini (born in Lucca) operas included; La bohème is set in Paris, Madame Butterfly in Nagasaki. Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana and its intermezzo depict a small Sicilian town, and Verdi's La traviata ("Di Provenza il mar, il suol") is another Parisian tale. Ottorino Respighi, a Roman born in Bologna, is represented by selections from The Birds and Ancient Airs and Dances, both attractive and interesting interpretations of the music of earlier eras, but neither with any specific connection to Tuscany. Giovanni Gabrieli's Canzone e Sonate were written for Venetian, not Florentine, use, as were the movements from Vivaldi's Four Seasons and Mandolin Concerto included here. The Albinoni Adagio is an elaboration of a scrap of music by the Venetian Albinoni, written in Dresden by a Rome-born, Bologna-trained, and Milan-based scholar. Which leaves "O mio babbino caro," from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi, the first track on Bella Tuscany. That opera is based on an episode from Dante's Inferno, which is indeed set in a rather abstract Florence, even if it's a medieval Florence that would be largely unrecognizable today. One for sixteen is an unimpressive score, especially given the centuries-long history of musical works, from Josquin all the way down to Tchaikovsky's Souvenir of Florence and beyond, that were actually inspired by the seat of the Medicis' power and its glorious surrounding countryside. If your desire is a pleasant hour of Italian music, presented in smooth sound by Telarc's hardworking engineers, Bella Tuscany provides it. If you want the slightest bit of understanding of the wonder that is Tuscany, however, look elsewhere.

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