Although easily recognized as a modernist trailblazer in his works of the 1910s and 1920s, Italian composer Gian Francesco Malipiero is more of an odd duck in his extensive catalog of late, post-World War II compositions, to such an extent that it is hard to know whether he is coming or going. Gian Francesco Malipiero: First Edition compiles three Malipiero pieces first recorded, and in two cases premiered, by Robert Whitney and the Louisville Orchestra. Even though the recordings date from 1954 to 1966, the sound quality is consistently excellent, and except where noted below, so are the performances. Also included is Malipiero's own cryptic program notes for each work, written in amusingly unidiomatic English.
These three works, Fantasie di Ogni Giorno (1953), Concerto No. 3 for piano and orchestra (1948), and Notturno di Canti e Balli (1957), come off as eccentric, discursive, lacking in focus, and mostly dissonant. Some of Malipiero's late work resembles the late symphonies of English composer Havergal Brian, and to listeners who appreciate Brian this is strongly recommended. For those with fast ears and an intellect operating at a high level of activity, there is an appeal to following Malipiero's broken thread of argument, and his approach to orchestration is unique. The Concerto is the most easily grasped of the three, as it is based in the diatonic style that Malipiero favored starting in the early '30s, and yet that in itself does not guarantee an easy ride for the listener. Nor does the concerto seem to have much for piano soloist Benjamin Owen to sink his teeth into, as the piano part seems to disappear into the orchestra for much of the time.
Robert Whitney himself does not seem entirely in accord with some of the music here. In the second movement of Notturno di Canti e Balli, the Louisville Orchestra is not as crisp as was its wont. Perhaps Whitney was merely having an off day; this piece was recorded very near to the end of Whitney's long tenure with the orchestra. David Prince's useful liner notes go a long way toward making clear what to look for in these compositions, but nothing will replace listening to this disc several times to truly "get" it. Should one acquire Gian Francesco Malipiero: First Edition, be prepared to work; ultimately it comes down to the taste of the listener to determine whether or not it pays off.