Since his premature death in 1979, interest has been slowly increasing in Nino Rota as a composer of repertory material for concert use. Rota's reputation, naturally, is dominated by the more than 150 scores he created for motion pictures -- particularly those for Federico Fellini -- and many of the concert works he created are in some way reflective of, or related to, Rota's work as a composer for films. Among the six pieces on Arts' Complete Music for Viola and Piano -- Complete Music for Violin and Piano featuring Marco Fornaciari on violin/viola and Gabriele Baldocci on piano, only one derives from film; a short Improvviso on a theme from Gianni Franciolini's Amanti senza Amore (1948). These pieces were composed mostly between 1933 and 1945 and not conceived for any external purpose. Perhaps the most unusual and interesting is Rota's Sonata for viola and piano in G (1933), composed as Rota studied with Alfredo Casella; while Rota's usually emotional and romantic style is still very much a part of it, something of Casella's penchant for slightly bitter neo-Classic modernism has wormed its way into this early Rota work. The Adagio in this sonata is exceptionally moving, though it can be said all of Rota's efforts in this medium evinces a lyric and passionately melodic feeling.
Arts' Super Audio CD bears the device, "The signal was not compressed or equalized at any stage during production," and it might have used a little equalization -- it is distant and airy sounding and the sound of Fornaciari's violin and viola is thin. Generally, the performances are fine, particularly on Fornaciari's end of the matter; Baldocci, a pianist not even born when Rota still lived, acquits himself well overall but does manage to contribute some miscellaneous moments of sloppiness and shortcuts here and there.
An almost identical Rota program, minus the film-derived theme, featuring fiddler Luigi Alberto Bianchi was issued on the Dynamic label in 1997. Of the two, the Bianchi recording remains stronger as the soloist is presented in more upfront perspective -- it makes a huge difference in direct comparison. The way the notes and booklet are laid out, it almost seems as though Baldocci is the center of attention rather than Fornaciari; if so, then this was a wrong-headed decision -- you never want to use a chamber duo recital to promote the work of an accompanist over a soloist. If the inclusion of the extra piece is meaningful to the consumer, then obtain Arts' Rota: Complete Music for Viola and Piano -- Complete Music for Violin and Piano; otherwise, the Dynamic should be preferred for this literature, as it is the better recording.