CD Selections
4:35 pm
Thu July 26, 2012

Mark Pinto Recommends...Vittorio Giannini World-Premiere Recordings

This world-premiere recording of two chamber masterpieces by Philadelphia native son Vittorio Giannini definitely rates a “Wow!” When I aired his compelling Piano Quintet on New Releases a couple of months back, I found myself continually turning up the volume in the studio as each ear-catching phrase poured forth.

Giannini’s story is compelling, too. Born in South Philadelphia in 1903 into an Italian family of professional opera singers and voice teachers, at age 10 he entered the Milan Conservatory on scholarship to study violin and composition. He went to Juilliard, he won the 1932 American Prix de Rome, and then returned to teach composition at Juilliard, the Manhattan School of Music, and Curtis.

John Corigliano, David Amram, Adolphus Hailstork, and Alfred Reed studied with Giannini. Crowning his career, in 1965 he founded the North Carolina School of the Arts as a “Juilliard of the South,” bringing in the likes of cellist Janos Starker and violinist Ruggiero Ricci to teach. Giannini died only a year later.

As a composer, his biggest success came from opera, with his music solidly in the late Italian Romantic tradition of Puccini. Though he explored dissonance, many of his contemporaries regarded his music as old-fashioned. But all of his meticulously crafted works—including symphonies, concertos, and band pieces—manifest a mastery of counterpoint and development.

The Manchester (Vermont) Music Festival has unearthed two remarkable chamber works by Giannini, both composed in 1931. This is serious music—make no mistake—but it’s also downright gorgeous and emotionally moving, with singing melodies, lush textures, and propulsive cohesion. The Trio is Brahmsian in its aching melancholy, while the chromaticism, cinematic sweep, and driving rhythms of the Quintet conjure Dvorak and Rachmaninoff.

The performances are utterly passionate and convincing. As the musicians themselves say, this music deserves a place in the repertoire. I cannot recommend this recording too highly.

Much of Giannini’s prolific output remains unpublished, and recordings of his works have been rare. I wonder what other masterpieces are waiting to be discovered, and I hope the wait isn’t long!

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