Pizzetti Symphony in A and Harp Concerto – neo-classical or pre-classical?

Pizzetti’s sprawling 43-minute symphony was written to commemorate the 2600th Anniversary of the Japanese Imperial Dynasty. This 1940 Symphony doesn’t have a particularly Japanese feel to it. Rather, the work has a strong modal flavor — in some places it reminded me of Vaughan Williams.

Pizzetti was a contemporary of Ottorino Respighi and shared his love of Renaissance Italian music. Like Respighi, Pizzetti lets his ideas flow from one to another in a fairly loose structure. This symphony isn’t one of high drama but rather a series of beautiful set pieces.

The Harp Concerto was completed in 1960. Here the modality is even more pronounced. It presents an Arcadian setting for the harp, casting it the role of a shepherd’s lyre. In a year that saw the premiere of Berio’s “Circles” and Penderecki’s “Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima” this work probably sounded quite comforting.

Harpist Margherita Bassani gives the concerto a sympathetic reading. This is a work that celebrates beauty, and Bassani brings out the full potential of the music.

I was less enamored of the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale dell Rai. In both works, there were times when the strings sounded a little ragged. And in the first movement of the symphony, there were also some minor intonation problems. They weren’t pronounced enough to be jarring, just distracting.

Still, these are interesting compositions. Pizzetti wasn’t so much a neo-classicist as a pre-classicist. I’m glad these works are available.

Ildebrando Pizzetti: Symphony in A; Harp Concerto in E-flat
Margherita Bassani, harp
Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale dell Ari; Damian Iorio, conductor
Naxos 8.573613

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