Newcomers to the music of the 19th century sometimes wonder why there are so few Italian compositions in genres of "absolute" music: symphonies, chamber music, piano sonatas. As the booklet notes for this release on the fine German audiophile label MDG point out, the reason is that the institutions supporting these genres were almost completely absent in Italy, whose musical life was organized around the opera. The exception was the municipal wind band, which served as a regional training ground for opera orchestra musicians. This album presents a group of all-but-unknown small chamber pieces for winds by Amilcare Ponchielli, best known for his opera La Gioconda and specifically for the Dance of the Hours instrumental interlude, known to pop fans as "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh." That piece is included here in an 1876 arrangement for wind nonet by Andreas Tarkmann. The rest of the music is putatively independent, but Il Convegno (The Appointment, track 1) and Paolo e Virginia (track 5) are operatic pieces lacking only texts, with recitatives, dramatic outbursts, and aria-like melodies for the solo instruments. The Capriccio for oboe and piano and the Quartet for flute, oboe, E flat clarinet, clarinet, and piano are more oriented toward classical forms, but they have a rather academic quality; the opera-style pieces carry more of the flavor of Ponchielli's surroundings, and they might well interest lovers of La Gioconda in this sweetly played and recorded version.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim