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Franco Ferrara' gifts were prodigious. Born in Palermo he was a fine pianist, an even better violinist, playing under Toscanini, and later a conductor whose public performances were curtailed by illness, but whose private classes were famous. His composit
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First impressions convey important insights but sometimes they just fall short. The cover of this "Tragic Fantasy" seems to show an angry hand grasping the red and black vale of clouds in a threatening reach. Hmmm---is this modern music angry, grasping, stormy, dissonant?
The content of Ferrara's Preludio, Fantasia tragica, Notte de tempesta, and Burlesca contradicts the false initial image and envelops the listener in lush melody to imagine a mind-lifting voyage into light and energy. The arm reaches out in blessing, from the 16th century Bishop and reformer Carlo Borromeo, from the enormous statue in his memory and honor in Aroma, Italy. These beautiful compositions are performed by the only private orchestra in Italy, The Symphonic Orchestra of Rome, under the direction of Francesco La Vecchia. The pieces were written at different times, but make a most desirable combination and collection. * The Preludio is soft and dreamy, inviting the listener to relax and enjoy this musical fantasy. * Fantasia tragica begins so softly that almost nothing is heard for several seconds. A chromatic theme is introduced, hides, and reappears throughout the piece. A drum ostinato prevails for a while, and the music fades away again at the conclusion. * Notte di Tempesta begins quietly much like its predecessor, perhaps envisioned by a single black cloud on the horizon. By the end of this selection, it has earned its designation as the Night of the Storm--imagination is reinforced. * The Burlesca flirts with the imagination to conjure up no horrors, but imps, pixies, fairies peeking around the edges of flowers--or perhaps flutes are just chasing the cornets on stage. Or maybe from a movie, the Pink Panther or Doris Day flit along with their on-screen plots.Read more ›
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Franco Ferrara was many things: a brilliant pianist and violinist, a teacher, a conductor -- and a composer. Ill health forced him to give up public performance at age 47, so the bulk of his reputation these days rests on those who studied conducting with him, such as Roberto Abbado, Andrew Davis, Riccardo Muti, among many others.
This new release from Naxos, "Fantasia tragica," features four world premiere recordings by this master musician. Ferrara certainly isn't the first 20th Century conductor who wrote music. There's George Szell, Jose Serebrier, Wilhelm Furtwangler, and (of course) Gustav Mahler. Ferrar isn't quite on the level of Mahler, but his works are more tightly constructed than Furtwangler's.
Francesco La Vecchia and the Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma present four world premier recordings of Ferrara's music. They provide an excellent reading of this material, giving the listener a great introduction to these unknown works.
This is accessible and appealing music, indeed! While sitting clearly in the 20th Century, Ferrara's compositions stay safely with the bounds of tonality. To my ears, the compositions sounded somewhat like mid-career Shostakovitch, without the Russian accent.
That's not to say this a a bad recording -- far from it! Ferrara has some original music ideas, and his intimate knowledge of how an orchestra works allows him to come up with some very effective and moving tonal colors. In a way, it's sort of like comfort food. Ferrara doesn't challenge, but rather reassures with his music.
I found the "Fantasia tragica" particularly appealing. Like Ravel's "Bolero," the work gradually builds in volume as more instruments enter the mix.Read more ›
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Apart from Gustav Mahler, who was equally famous for both composing and conducting, internationally known music maestros who also composed are relatively few; examples are Wilhelm Furtwaengler, Igor Markevitch, Evgeni Svetlanov, and Bruno Walter. In his lifetime, Franco Ferrara, one of Italy's most renowned 20th-century conductors, tutored over 600 students, including many who subsequently became famous conductors. It is, therefore, a surprise and a pleasure to discover that he was also a composer. According to the Naxos program notes, his vast, largely unexplored catalog includes instrumental, vocal, and orchestral works; a full-length, as-yet unstaged opera, "La sagra del fuoco" (The Festival of Fire); numerous short pieces written for television and adverts; and, curiously, a few songs written under the pseudonym of Franz Falco. Based on the contents of this new CD from Naxos, what he composed is certainly worth hearing, in my opinion. Once again, Naxos is to be congratulated on taking a leap of faith by recording these virtually works. The solemn "Preludio" is followed by the dramatic, late-Romantic-style "Fantasia tragica," which (according to the notes) draws upon Shostakovich; the persistent drum beats drive home forcibly the concept of tragedy. "Notte di tempesta" (Stormy Night) is also highly dramatic and (to my mind) projects a brooding atmosphere. "Burlesca," one of Ferrara's earlier works, is lighter in mood, and makes a splendid contrast to the other three works on this CD. The program notes give many details about Ferrara, but little information about the four works heard on this CD. Despite that, those who love emotional music composed in the late-Romantic period (with some touches of post-Romanticism, although Ferrara never composed in an atonal style) should certainly add this CD to their collection. The playing and recording quality are exemplary. Ted Wilks
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