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Goffredo Petrassi (1904-2003) was a remarkable figure in Italian music, whose pupils included such diverse composers as Aldo Clementi, Ennio Morricone, Peter Maxwell Davies and Cornelius Cardew. His work has been unfairly eclipsed by that of his near contemporary Scelsi, and Nono and Berio from the next generation.

Like Elliott Carter, Petrassi has a style developed from neo-classical through freely serial to what Callum MacDonald called ‘allusive, arabesque-like’, though with Petrassi these changes showed a Stravinskian restlessness. As the Grove writer puts it, Petrassi ‘had no belief in the certainty of any [stylistic] approach, but only in [that] of the struggle and torment of life’, his strongly developed sense of irony helping him to endure the era of Mussolini’s dictatorship.

It’s puzzling why his wonderful music is not more widely performed. It can perhaps appear emotionally austere – ‘freddo’ was a favourite marking – but none could deny its dazzling sense of orchestral colour. The works on this disc tend towards the spikily neo-classical. The Piano Concerto (1939) is a composition of Petrassi’s early maturity; the richness of its ideas takes it well beyond the neo-classical and towards the contemporary work of Bartók. The orchestration in the coda of the first movement especially is haunting and magical, its subtleties beautifully captured here by the RAI orchestra, while the slow movement carries echoes of Bartók’s ‘night music’. Alfonso Alberti’s playing shows both alacrity and pathos, while Arturo Tamayo’s often keen tempos make this release totally compelling. Also included are the Partita of 1932, whose success marks the beginning of Petrassi’s career, and the orchestral suite from the ballet La Follia di Orlando (1945).

ANDY HAMILTON Read the full review on Agora Classica


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