Various Artists

Gian Carlo Menotti: Chamber Works

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Champ Hill's recording features four works from late in Gian Carlo Menotti's career, well past the heyday of his operatic successes. Two are vocal, Canti della lontananza from 1967 and Five Songs from 1983, and two are instrumental, Cantilena e scherzo for harp and string quartet from 1977 and the Trio for violin, clarinet & piano from 1996. The first three recordings are taken from a 2005 ASV release and the performance of the trio is released here for the first time. The musical interest of the pieces themselves is strongest in the earliest and diminishes in the later ones. Most impressive are the song cycle Canti della lontananza (Songs of the Distance), which was commissioned by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, and Cantilena e scherzo. The seven songs, to Italian texts by the composer, are striking and emotionally direct; each is a succinct, vivid depiction of the protagonist's state of mind, and the melodic and harmonic language recall the best of the composer's operatic writing. Cantilena e scherzo is graceful and elegiac, the opening and closing reminiscent of the lovely trio "Now, o lips, say goodbye," from The Consul. The two later works are more prosaic; they have some charming moments, but they fall into conventional, workmanlike patterns and sound more cleverly constructed than inspired. All the pieces receive very fine performances. Soprano Christine Brewer is the soloist in the song cycles, but she is far more persuasive in the Italian songs, perhaps because the material is more expressive. The sound is clean and clear, but not especially deep.

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