Nino Rota/La Strada and Concertos for Harp and Trombone
Jennifer Swartz, harp
Alain Trudel, trombone
Orchestre Metropolitan du Grand Montreal
Yannick Nezet-Seguin, conductor
Here's a CD review from WRTI's Daytime Diva Jill Pasternak. In addition to being a beloved host for WRTI, Jill is also a professional harpist who trained at Julliard.
For the seasoned filmgoer, the name Nino Rota brings to mind some of the most poignant and popular film scores ever written. Who can forget the haunting main theme from La Strada - the 1956 blockbuster that won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film and featured Giulietta Massina as the pathetic and devoted mute Gelsomina, and her companion Zampano, the brutal circus performer played so brilliantly by Anthony Quinn. Rota's work with famed film director Federico Fellini is legendary, and La Dolce Vita is only one of a string of collaborations that brought the two artists together consistently. In recent years, Rota's work with Francis Ford Coppola on the riveting trilogy The Godfather kept him on the top rung.
However, earlier in his career Rota studied with one of the greatest 20th-century Italian composers - Alfredo Cassella - and produced a string of lesser-known works for orchestra, ballet, and solo instruments that are not recognized readily outside of his own country. One of them is his Concerto for Harp and Orchestra.
Rota composed the concerto in 1947 for Italian harp virtuoso Clelia Gatti Aldrovandi, who premiered it the following year. He had a soft spot for the harp and knew how to write for it. That's saying a lot, since the harp is deceptively complex. A tempered instrument similar to the piano, harp music is written like piano music on two staves. It has 6 and one-half octaves of strings. However, the length of each string is regulated by small discs that shorten or lengthen it to produce the tonality of each note (a,b,c,d,e,f,g) in natural, flat or sharp. These discs are controlled by seven foot pedals, which are moved by the harpist when a specific tonality is required. It is this very aspect of the instrument that is so confusing and limiting to composers.
Although essentially a modernist, Rota's concerto is structurally similar to the Baroque concertos of Vivaldi and Bach. The first movement is episodic - rather like a series of variations on a theme. The second is a serene and magical Andante, and the third movement is sprightly and somewhat virtuosic with several fugal sections between the harp and orchestra. But the star of this recording is harpist Jennifer Swartz whose technical prowess and musicianship shine. She delivers what appears to be an effortless performance enhanced by the meticulous Metropolitain Orchestra of Montreal, a group of faculty and graduates of various conservatories in Quebec.
The 2002 recording also featured an impressive young conductor - Yannick Nezet-Seguin, who is the next music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra! Also on the disc is the symphonic suite for La Strada with a trombone concerto featuring Alain Trudel. This recording is a winner. Don't miss it.--Jill