Classical CD Reviews

GIOVANNI SGAMBATI: Cola di Rienzo – Overture; Symphony No.1 in D Major – Orch. Sinfonica di Roma/ Francesco La Vecchia – Naxos

Worth hearing if you are interested in slightly out-of-the-way late Romantic or post-Romantic music.

Published on July 9, 2013

GIOVANNI SGAMBATI: Cola di Rienzo – Overture; Symphony No. 1 in D Major, Op. 16 – Orch. Sinfonica di Roma/ Francesco La Vecchia – Naxos 8.573007, 61:23 [12/12] ****:

Opera was so prevalent toward the end of the 19th century in Italy that symphonies and chamber works were being slighted by Italian audiences. Some Italian composers of the era felt there was a need to write and perform music other than opera.

One of them was Giovanni Sgambati (1841-1914) who is another largely forgotten composer. He combined the rich lyric vein of Italian music with German musical precision in his compositions.

He was also a conductor and pianist. Richard Wagner considered him a great and original talent. Sgambati was befriended by Liszt and became a pupil of his.

Sgambati’s music is conservative in style, yet of a thoroughly romantic nature. It’s the kind of music that is reminiscent of other composers. For example, the dramatic Cola di Rienzo – Overture (1866) sounds like it may have been written by Mendelssohn, but not in his typical orchestration.  Schumann, Liszt and Wagner also figure among the influences on Sgambati. His Symphony No.1 (1880-1881) is thoroughly in the Germanic tradition with the third movement Scherzo reminding one of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger – Prelude.

Conductor La Vecchia leads with passion and vigor. His orchestra is professional- sounding and responsive to his direction. As an advocate, Toscanini conducted Sgambati’s  music, as he did Giuseppe Martucci’s. Sgambati conducted the Italian premiere of Beethoven’s Eroica symphony in 1867 and Martucci conducted the first performance of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde in Italy in 1888. Martucci was also a strong influence in the revival of non-operatic music in Italy. He was influenced by Brahms and Schumann, among others. Neither Sgambati nor Martucci wrote any operas.

The sound on this recording is very good, but not state-of-the-art. The program notes in English and Italian are excellent. If you are interested in slightly out-of-the-way late Romantic or post-Romantic music, these two works by Sgambati are certainly worth hearing.

—Zan Furtwangler

 




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