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Classical Lost And Found: Ferrara's Laments and Surprises

Four of Franco Ferrara's works receive their recording premieres on this new album.
Naxos records
Four of Franco Ferrara's works receive their recording premieres on this new album.

Italian-born and trained, Franco Ferrara (1911 – 1985) was one of Italy's most promising conductors. But his concert hall appearances ended in 1946 when he began suffering from what may have been a psychosomatic disorder. He then turned to the more intimate confines of the studio to conduct recordings of some of Italy's legendary soundtracks for films like Fellini's La strada and La dolce vita.

However, he made an even greater contribution to the music world when in the early 1960s he began giving conducting classes. He became the "maestro dei maestri," whose students included Riccardo Muti, Andrew Davis and Riccardo Chailly.

Ferrara was also a prolific composer, and four of his orchestral works make their recorded debuts here, beginning with two grief-stricken selections.

Preludio is an intensely moving lament, while the baleful tone poem Fantasia tragica bears more than a passing resemblance to the third movement of Shostakovich's eleventh symphony and may also bring Bernard Herrmann's film music to mind. There's also a fragmentary reference in a minor key to the theme from Haydn's Emperor Quartet that became the melody for Deutschland über Alles. Accordingly, it probably signifies the tragic consequences brought about by the German occupation of Italy in World War II.

Ferrara's symphonic poem Notte di tempesta is brilliantly orchestrated and of cinematic temperament. One can imagine the opening passage limning a beautiful sunset and summer evening. But dark clouds soon gather, unleashing a tempest of howling winds and flashes of percussion and brass.

The storm gradually abates in Wagnerian passages, ending in a heroic idea reminiscent of the "Sword Motif" in The Ring Cycle. Ferrara builds this music into a towering chorale-like climax that concludes with a valorous and euphoric coda.

The mood lightens considerably with Burlesca, the final piece on this disc. An engaging 10-minute scherzo-like gem, its whimsical outer sections feature some fetching thematic material, and recall lighter moments in music by other Italians such as Respighi and Casella.

With only forty-seven minutes playing time, this disc is not exactly a Filenes's Basement bargain. But conductor Francesco La Vecchia and the Rome Symphony Orchestra make up for it with emotionally charged performances that never wallow in romance.

Bob McQuiston revels in under-the-radar repertoire at his website Classical Lost and Found.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bob McQuiston