FLAGELLO Symphony No. 2; Odyssey; Valse Noire; Concerto Sinfonico. ROSNER Symphony No. 7, “Trinity.”

FLAGELLO Symphony No. 2; Odyssey; Valse Noire; Concerto Sinfonico. ROSNER Symphony No. 7, “Trinity.” University of Houston Saxophone Quartet, Wind Ensemble; David Bertman, cond. NAXOS 8.573060

Liner Notes

Nicolas Flagello was one of the 20th century’s leading exponents of traditional late-romantic musical values. He held firmly to this aesthetic throughout his life, forging a personal musical language and a distinctive body of work shaped by his own temperament and embodying his own unique perspective on life.

Born in New York City in 1928, Flagello grew up in a family steeped in music. While still a child, he began a long and intensive apprenticeship with composer Vittorio Giannini, who imbued him with the enduring values of the grand European tradition. His study continued at the Manhattan School of Music, where he earned both his Bachelor’s (1949) and Master’s (1950) degrees, joining the faculty immediately upon graduation and remaining there until 1977. During the early l950s, he won a Fulbright Fellowship to study at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, under the tutelage of Ildebrando Pizzetti.

In addition to composing, Flagello was active as a pianist and conductor, making dozens of recordings of a wide range of repertoire from the Baroque period to the 20th century. In 1985 a deteriorating illness brought his musical career to an end prematurely. He died in 1994 at the age of 66.

As a composer, Flagello held with unswerving conviction to a view of music as a personal medium for emotional and spiritual expression. Although this view was unfashionable during his lifetime, more recently his works have begun to win enthusiastic advocacy, as his music is recorded and performed with increasing frequency.

Odyssey was commissioned by Marice Stith and the Cornell University Wind Ensemble, who gave the premiere of the work, under the composer’s direction, in 1981. Odyssey opens with a slow, funereal introduction, which exposes the principal motif, based on the interval of a minor-second. This motif is further explored during the agitated section that follows, during which a subsidiary motif is introduced by the piccolo and the English horn. The subsidiary idea also highlights the interval of a minor-second. After further elaboration of the subsidiary motif, an extended, multisectional development follows. Beginning like a sinister march, the development is swept along by driving triplet figures whose momentum is interrupted several times by references to the brooding introduction. After an elaboration of the two motifs, the energy subsides, leading to a mournful melody introduced by the clarinet. This melody, combining both motifs, builds to a large, climactic statement, in which a suggestion of hope sweetens the prevailing downcast tone. However the grimness returns, casting a shadow over the work’s final chords.

In 1964 Flagello was commissioned to compose a short test piece by the American Accordionists’ Association. He responded with a powerful, tightly-packed work entitled Introduction and Scherzo.Although it has proven to be a valued contribution to the serious accordion repertoire, I felt that its merit transcended its original purpose, and warranted attention beyond the circumscribed community of classical accordionists. In 1984, while Flagello was composing his Concerto Sinfonico, it occurred to me that the saxophone quartet would be an excellent alternative medium for the accordion piece. When I suggested the idea of a transcription to Flagello, he responded favorably, assuring me that he would “get to it” after he finished the Concerto. But by that time a deteriorating neurological condition had advanced to the point where he could no longer work. But the idea continued to haunt me, until, several years later, I undertook the transcription myself, completing it in 1992, and entitling it Valse Noire.

In two sections, the work opens with an aggressively sinister introduction. This leads directly into the “scherzo,” which, though notated largely in 6/8 meter, has the character of a darkly brooding waltz—one of Flagello’s favorite genres. The waltz proper is based on two main thematic ideas, the second of which is hinted at in the introduction. 

Flagello composed his Symphony No. 2, “Symphony of the Winds,” in 1970, but the work did not receive its first public performance until 1979, when it was introduced by the Cornell University Wind Ensemble, conducted by Marice Stith. Flagello’s Symphony No. 1 (Naxos 8.559148), is a monumental tragic-heroic work for full symphony orchestra. For its sequel Flagello decided upon a work of reduced duration for smaller instrumental forces, though with no simplification of aesthetic intent. The ensemble consists of only the woodwind, brass, and percussion sections of the full symphony orchestra—a group of about 25 players that differs considerably from the standard symphonic band.

Symphony of the Winds illustrates the intense emotionalism, often somber and turbulent in character, typical of Flagello’s mature style. The composer provided movement subtitles by way of program notes, which suggest the notion of “winds” as metaphor as well as instrumentation. “I: The torrid winds of veiled portents; II: Dark winds of lonely contemplation; III: The winds of re-birth and vitality.” The first movement, Moderato comodo, introduces two motifs that direct the course of the entire symphony. The first of these is based on the interval of a third, which governs the shape of all subsequent themes. The second motif consists of a descending second followed by a descending larger interval, of varying size. Both these motifs are contained within the exposition of the restless first theme. The presentation of the second theme is marked by an eerie calm, soon replaced by an almost demoniacal starkness. The development treats the material through brief, erratic and rhythmically turbulent episodes, continuing the movement’s tone of nightmarish grotesquerie. 

The second movement, Aria, is built around a gentle, pastoral melody, improvisatory in character, in alternation with a more somber, soulful melody that ends in a strange cadential figure of unearthly gravity. The movement culminates in an explosive, brooding climax, before ending with the strange cadential figure. The final movement, Fuga, is, as its title implies, a full-length fugue, whose subject is clearly composed of the two motifs noted at the beginning of the work. It pursues its course with a dark vigor, although during the development a ray of optimism intrudes, the first of the entire piece. After a harmonic augmentation and stretto, the work comes to an assertive close.

The Concerto Sinfonico was Flagello’s last completed work. It was commissioned by the Amherst Saxophone Quartet, who gave the premiere in November, 1985, with the Buffalo Philharmonic, under the direction of Semyon Bychkov. Although the character of much of Flagello’s music is dark and tempestuous, it is difficult to listen to the Concerto Sinfonico without hearing in its consistent tone of anguish, agitation, and dread a sense of what Flagello experienced while confronting the physical and psychological disintegration that his illness had already begun to wreak. On the other hand, the work is a fully autonomous, thematically unified musical structure that requires no extrinsic knowledge in order to understand and appreciate it. Its title indicates the composer’s conception of the work as not so much a virtuoso vehicle as an integrated symphonic structure in which the saxophone quartet serves as the composite voice of a hypothetical protagonist.

Veteran arranger Merlin Patterson was introduced to the Concerto Sinfonico in its original orchestral version in 2004, and decided to create a transcription for wind ensemble. This version was introduced in 2005 by the New Hudson Saxophone Quartet and the University of Houston Wind Ensemble, conducted by Tom Bennett. 

The Concerto Sinfonico is launched (Allegro non troppo) by a driving rhythm in the orchestra that quickly builds to an almost hysterical shriek, before the saxophones enter, introducing the main theme. At the head of this theme is a three-note motif that serves as the basis of the entire work. Soon the second theme—a lonely, plaintive melody derived from the first theme—is introduced by the alto saxophone. After this theme reaches a climax, a furious development of the first theme follows. This is followed by an introspective reflection on both themes, which even admits a blossoming of faith and hope, before leading with grim resolution to the driving recapitulation and coda, bringing the movement to a defiant conclusion.

The second movement, Lento movendo, is a mournful barcarolle based on the material from the first movement, primarily as heard in the second theme. This section gradually reaches a climax, ushering in a turbulent central portion that culminates in a chilling explosion. The passage ends in sad resignation. The opening barcarolle returns briefly, then concludes with a reminder of the three-note motif from the first movement.

The third movement, Allegro giusto, opens with the three-note motif, played by the timpani, reinforced by the lower woodwinds and brass. The character of the movement suggests a grimly sardonic scherzo, with newly-fashioned themes derived from the first-movement material. The scherzo is followed by a grotesque “trio” section, before the scherzo idea returns, now subjected to a thorough development. This eventually builds to a stark proclamation, followed by a shattering cataclysm. After the tumult subsides, slow harp arpeggios accompany a hopeful return of the work’s main motif. But the mood darkens, as the second theme answers solemnly over ominous tremolos and timpani strokes. All hope seems dashed, as the driving rhythm that opened the work now hammers it into defeat.


Arnold Rosner was born in New York City in 1945. He earned a doctorate from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1971, during an era when the serial avant-garde was at its height. Finding that approach thoroughly unappealing, Rosner has pursued a conservative but highly individual style, and his works have been widely performed, recorded, and reviewed. He has composed three operas, eight symphonies, six string quartets, and numerous other orchestral, chamber, vocal, and choral works. Critic Steven Schwartz commented on Classical.Net: “[Rosner’s] music packs a huge emotional wallop and it’s meticulously well-written besides. He writes gorgeous, powerful, long-breathed tunes. The craft serves the message to the point where it effaces itself almost completely. Listening to a Rosner work is like hearing the music of Orpheus.” Rosner serves on the faculty of Kingsborough College in Brooklyn, NY. He has also worked in broadcasting and, an avid bridge player, he is a tournament champion.

Rosner writes, “I had completed more than 80 compositions, and was in my 40s before attempting to write for band. I will admit that I was somewhat skeptical about the band as a medium for serious music; it took three friends to persuade me to give it a try. Of course, I was wrong about the existing repertoire and the potential for my own music, and I apologize publicly here and now.

“After experimenting with a transcription of Sweelinck’s Chromatic Fantasy for organ I felt ready to write an original work, and proceeded to compose Trinity, my Symphony No. 8, which I completed in 1988. I have written some seven band compositions since, but this one is still the largest in scale. 
“In the field of surveying, the concept of triangulation is often used, referring to looking at an area from three different perspectives or angles so as to understand it in full dimension. In my Symphony No. 8, “Trinity,” I have attempted to bring this approach to meditative or spiritual thought. If one views the mysteries from three different, and to some extent opposing viewpoints, does one derive deeper insights or simply confusion? Whether my work succeeds in providing such a full dimension is for the listener to decide.

“Critics have sometimes referred to my music as neo-archaic, and there is partial truth to that. While I believe in fairly complex structures, rich orchestration, and some intensity of drama and mood, I still believe in traditional melody, harmony, and counterpoint. I suppose the “neo-archaic” aspect derives from the fact that I MUCH prefer the modes and progressions of music that is 400 years old to that which is 200 years old. 

“The first movement, ‘Ave Maria,’ has some resemblances to Renaissance style and, as the title suggests, views the spiritual world from a devout, perhaps Christian aspect. In the second movement, ‘Le Rondeau du Monsieur le Diable,’ the perspective purports to be devilish, but the actual musical influences are even earlier, suggesting the 14th century or before. Mysticism of numbers and “music of the spheres” take over for the finale, ‘Pythagoras,’ where parts move in cross-rhythmic patterns—slow majestic chorales in the brass against saxophone or woodwind rushes in rhythmic conflict with them, with splashes of color or additional beat-patterns in percussion.”

Notes by Walter Simmons
Author, Voices in the Wilderness: Six American Neo-Romantic Composers (Scarecrow Press, 2004)

David Bertman

David Bertman is Associate Professor of Music and Director of Bands at the University of Houston’s Moores School of Music. Overseeing more than 450 students, he plays a vital public role in university life, as a roving ambassador throughout the Houston community. He is the conductor of the Moores School Wind Ensemble and Symphonic Band, teaches graduate and undergraduate conducting, and is the co-author of a comprehensive program in band musicianship, published by the Hal Leonard Corporation. During his tenure at the School Bertman has received an impressive series of awards testifying to his distinguished contributions to the University community. He is a member of the Texas Music Educators Association, the College Band Directors National Association, the Texas Bandmasters Association, and Phi Beta Mu.

Moores School of Music

The University of Houston’s Rebecca and John J. Moores School of Music is one of the premier music schools in America. Its remarkable faculty of internationally recognized performers, composers, and scholars; outstanding student body; modern facility; and comprehensive programs make the Moores School of Music a natural choice for nearly 600 students annually. The School’s commitment to academic excellence and the highest performance standards has ensured its role as a vital resource in the educational and cultural life of Houston and the state of Texas.

Liner Notes: Ezio Flagello sings the music of Nicolas Flagello in performances conducted by the composer: Passion of Martin Luther King (1968); L’Infinito (1956); The Land (1954)

EZIO FLAGELLO SINGS THE MUSIC OF NICOLAS FLAGELLO
IN PERFORMANCES CONDUCTED BY THE COMPOSER
Naxos 8.112065

Passion of Martin Luther King(1968)
Ezio Flagello: bass baritone; Ambrosian Singers, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Nicolas Flagello, conductor

L’Infinito (1956)
The Land (1954)
Ezio Flagello: bass baritone; I Musici di Firenze, Nicolas Flagello, conductor

The brothers Nicolas Flagello (1928-1994) and Ezio Flagello (1931-2009) were born in New York City to a family that had been musically active for generations. Their father, a successful dress designer, was an amateur oboist, and their mother had been a singer whose father (conductor and composer Domenico Casiello) was said to have studied with Verdi. Both boys became immersed in music at an early age, although their parents did not encourage them to pursue it professionally. Nicolas began playing the piano at 3, and started to compose before the age of 10. After high school he resisted his parents’ wish that he pursue a career in engineering. Ezio was more amenable to their plan for him to become a dentist. Nicolas, who had already begun studying composition with Vittorio Giannini, entered the Manhattan School of Music in 1945, earning both his Bachelor’s (1949) and Master’s (1950) degrees there. Upon graduation he joined the Manhattan School faculty, where he remained for 25 years. Meanwhile, as Ezio’s voice began to mature, its rich quality began to attract attention, and he entered the Manhattan School as well, studying with Friedrich Schorr. Upon graduating in 1953, he joined the Army, where his extraordinary talent was recognized when he won first prize in an Army talent search. This led to auspicious appearances on the TV shows of Arlene Francis and Ed Sullivan. Both brothers won Fulbright Fellowships in 1955, enabling them to study for a year at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome. 

In 1957 Ezio was persuaded to enter the Metropolitan Opera Auditions of the Air and won First Prize. He made his Metropolitan Opera debut in Tosca that year, and two weeks later with little notice was asked to substitute for an ailing colleague as Leporello in Don Giovanni. Thus began an illustrious career that included 528 performances with the Metropolitan, as well as appearances with the San Francisco Opera, Philadelphia Lyric Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Connecticut Opera, Milwaukee’s Florentine Opera, and other companies throughout the country. His European tours included performances at La Scala, the Vienna Staatsoper and Berlin Deutsche Opera, as well as London’s Covent Garden. He was widely acclaimed in the title roles of Falstaff and Gianni Schichi, in addition to Dr. Dulcamara in L’Elisir d’Amore, Sparafucile in Rigoletto, Klingsor in Parsifal, Pogner in Die Meistersinger, and many others. In 1966 he created the role of Enobarbus in the world premiere of Samuel Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra. In addition he appeared on the concert stage with many of the world’s leading orchestras. Later in his career, Ezio won a Grammy Award and a Grand Prix du Disque for his recordings of Cosi fan Tutte and Don Giovanni respectively. In addition he played a cameo role in the film The Godfather II, and appeared several times on The Tonight Show.

During his years on the faculty of the Manhattan School, Nicolas continued to compose, eventually producing a large and distinguished body of work. His music embodied traditional romantic musical values, although his later works were intensified by modernist innovations in harmony and rhythm, but without the irony or detachment of postmodernism. For him music remained a personal medium for spiritual and emotional expression. His works include six operas, two symphonies, eight concertos, and numerous orchestral, choral, chamber, and vocal works. 

In the American Record Guide Mark Lehman wrote, “What [Nicolas] Flagello brings to his art is … an absolute conviction in the primacy of emotion: the music throbs with vitality. It can be exciting or turbulent, sweetly melancholy or tragic — but it is always openly and fiercely passionate.” And in Classical Music (Backbeat Books, 2002), Bret Johnson stated, “[Nicolas] Flagello was perhaps the most effective exponent of the American lyrical post-romantic ideal in the generation that followed Barber. His profound belief in the expressive power of music is manifest in every piece.”
In addition to composing, Nicolas was active as a pianist and conductor, and made dozens of recordings of a wide range of repertoire, from the Baroque period to the twentieth century. In 1985 a degenerative illness brought his musical career to an end prematurely.     Although much of Nicolas’ music remained unheard at the time of his death, in recent years his work has been performed and recorded at an increasing rate, attracting the attention of a new generation of listeners. Violinists Elmar Oliveira and Midori, and conductors Semyon Bychkov and James DePreist are just a few of today’s leading performers who have found in Nicolas Flagello’s work deeply felt musical content, presented in a clear, comprehensible manner.


Nicolas Flagello had long admired Martin Luther King’s dedication to the ideals of human justice and brotherhood and was deeply moved by the influential black leader’s assassination in April 1968. The comment made by Pope Paul VI, upon learning of King’s sudden martyrdom, ‘‘I liken the life of this man to the life of our Lord,’’ immediately galvanized Nicolas’ creative energy. Seeking a suitable form of musical tribute, he recalled a work he had composed in 1953 for chorus and orchestra, called Pentaptych. This piece, which had never been performed, comprised settings of five sacred texts from the Latin liturgy: 1. Hosanna Filio David; 2. Cor Jesu; 3. Et Flagellis Subditum; 4. Stabat Mater; and 5. Jubilate Deo. Nicolas realized that restructuring the work around Martin Luther King would provide a human focus missing from the earlier composition. He decided to combine excerpts from the speeches of the slain civil rights leader in alternation with the Latin liturgical texts, so as to suggest King as a latter-day embodiment of Jesus Christ. Indeed, the selections he chose from King’s speeches concern the fundamental Christian values of brotherly love, faith in God’s omniscient goodness, and enduring hardship without succumbing to fear or vengeance, rather than more worldly social concerns. He set King’s words for bass-baritone, in an expressive arioso consistent stylistically with the choral portions, in such a way that the vernacular solo element continually reverberates against the timeless spirituality of the Latin choral sections in a deeply moving synergy. Nicolas ended the work with a heartfelt setting of a portion of the ‘‘I Have a Dream’’ speech, followed by the vigorous choral fugue ‘‘Jubilate Deo.’’ 

Shortly after its completion, Nicolas and Ezio decided to record the work in England, with the London Philharmonic and the Ambrosian Singers. However, a suitable company was not found to release the recording, and it lay dormant for a while. Several years later the distinguished conductor James DePreist became interested in the work, and agreed to lead the premiere with the National Symphony Orchestra and the Cathedral Choral Society at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, in 1974, with Ezio as soloist. However, while preparing the work several months earlier, DePreist requested that Nicolas omit the ‘‘I Have a Dream’’/‘‘Jubilate Deo’’ sequence. In DePreist’s own words: “The music that accompanied the ‘I Have a Dream’ segment was so incredibly beautiful that it captured the spirit of the words, but in a crucial sense it did not capture the contrast of the context of those words—that it was necessary to have a march to the Capitol to make those words, that dream, a reality. I told Nicolas it needed to be more bittersweet to evoke the experience more fully….  So we talked about how I felt the spirit of the work would be better encapsulated in a new finale based upon a return to the theme of the third movement.”

Nicolas agreed to the change, and that was the version presented at the Washington, DC, premiere, and at the many performances the work has had since then, as well as on the recording conducted by DePreist, released in 1995. The 1969 recording of the original version of the work was never released—until now. In 2008, the American people elected Barack Obama, an African-American, to the Presidency of the United States. The Flagello Estate felt that this triumph was a significant milestone toward the realization of Dr. King’s “Dream,” and, perhaps, justified a revival of the original conception of the work. It was decided that a return to the original version of the Passion would be initiated by the first release of the 1969 recording, featuring Ezio Flagello’s towering performance as bass-baritone soloist.   

During his period of study at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Nicolas enjoyed the tutelage of the distinguished Italian composer Ildebrando Pizzetti (1880-1968). Although Pizzetti’s influence left little impact on Flagello’s compositional style, which had already begun to reveal an individual voice of its own, the maestro, then 76, reinforced his student’s proud awareness of his place in the continuity of Italian musical tradition. One of the pieces that Nicolas composed during this sojourn was L’Infinito, a setting of a poem of precocious philosophical cast by the nineteen-year-old Giacomo Leopardi (1798–1837). Pizzetti had asserted that the well-known poem was almost impossible to set, presenting an irresistible challenge to the young composer. A gloomy expression of humility and awe in the face of the Infinite, Leopardi’s poem reveals a lofty yet pessimistic perspective that Nicolas was coming increasingly to share, and his setting aptly captures its spirit. He set L’Infinito for bass-baritone and piano, with his brother in mind, although he later arranged the accompaniment for chamber orchestra.

Some years earlier, in 1954, also with his brother in mind, Nicolas had composed The Land, a song cycle comprising settings of six poems by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, for bass-baritone and chamber orchestra. Ezio introduced the cycle in New York City the following year, under the composer’s direction. The cycle was recorded, together with L’Infinito, in Rome in 1962. Nicolas’ warm, luxuriant settings present a variety of contrasting moods, expanding Tennyson’s simple verses in praise of birds, flowers, and seasons into a grand pantheistic statement, innocent in its fervor, which becomes explicit in the final song, ‘‘Flower in the Cranny.’’ The entire cycle is unified by a single motif, first presented during an extended introduction, against an undulating instrumental backdrop suggesting waves of the sea. This motif, first heard in D minor, recurs in each song, often in altered form. At the end of ‘‘Flower in the Cranny,’’ which has something of the character of a chaconne, this motif achieves a rapturous resolution in E major during an extended epilogue. The other poems in the cycle are ‘‘The Eagle,’’ ‘‘The Owl,’’ ‘‘The Throstle,’’ ‘‘The Oak,’’ and ‘‘The Snowdrop.’’ The Land displays Nicolas Flagello’s mastery of orchestration in conveying, with only a small group of instruments, the effect of a full orchestra. The accompaniment of this song cycle achieves a remarkable richness and variety of instrumental color, although it calls for an ensemble consisting of only four winds and a group of strings, augmented by piano and celeste.

Notes by Walter Simmons
Author of Voices in the Wilderness: Six American Neo-Romantic Composers
(Scarecrow Press, 2006)
For further information, see www.Flagello.com

Liner Notes-HOVANESS: Talin. BARLOW: The Winter’s Passed. KAUFMAN: Pastorale. FLAGELLO: Adoration. BERGER: Short Overture.

Hovhaness: Talin
Barlow: The Winter’s Passed
Kaufman: Pastorale
Flagello: Adoration
Berger: Short Overture

“My purpose is to create music, hot for snobs, but for all people, music which is beautiful and healing, to attempt what old Chinese painters called spirit resonance in melody and sound.”

Alan Hovhaness has pursued this ideal with a vigor matched by few other contemporary com­posers. Functioning in his own esthetic realm, aloof from the musical mainstream and its myriad ephemeral trends and fads, Hovhaness has produced a prodigious body of music including more than 30 symphonies and literally hundreds of other works of all dimensions, designed to be performed by an endless array of instrumental combinations from the beginning student to amateur groups and large-scale professional ensembles. Since his days as an isolated eccentric who performed his exotic music for friends in the Boston area while living on a meager income earned as a church organist up until today when he is regarded as one of America’s most original and widely performed and recorded composers, Hovhaness has been guided by a dignity, humility and integrity that have enabled him to make use of any available means and opportunity to pursue his- own unique and uncompromising vision.

Born in Somerville, Massachusetts, in 1911, Hovhaness gravitated toward music at a very early age despite the absence of parental encouragement. He underwent a perfunctory exposure to conven­tional music lessons and studied for a while at the New England Conservatory. This training, how­ever, did not answer his inner artistic needs as did the counsel and encouragement of two Boston mystics, the painters Hermon di Giovanno and Hyman Bloom, who urged Hovhaness to turn toward the culture of his ancestral Armenia as a source of inspiration both musical and spiritual. Renouncing the conventional approaches he had thus far followed in vain, he delved wholeheartedly into this cultural archaeology and emerged with a new sense of artistic identity, having discovered a musico-philosophical realm with which he finally felt a kinship.

“I was looking for a new direction that would be more expressive, and I found that direction in the church music of Armenian culture. That led me to a more ancient kind of Armenian music than ‘folk music,’ much of which has been tampered with; I also discovered the music of Komitas Vartabed, who was a kind of Armenian Bartók, before Bartók. He was a very great man, and his development of Armen­ian music was the first influence I had.”

This was the beginning of Hovhaness’ immersion in the ancient Western and Oriental musical cul­tures upon which he has drawn for the inspira­tion of most of his mature work, in a pursuit of the Confucian ideal of joining heaven and earth, East and West.

“Somehow, Armenian music led me to India, when I heard the music of the dancer Uday Shankar, Ravi Shankar’s brother, who brought along a group of musicians from India. This opened up a whole new world yet seemed very much related to the different modes of Armenian music. Also Japanese music and theatre had a strong influence throughout the 1940s. The visual and musical aspects of Japan­ese drama, and its wonderful way of handling stories, gave me a new outlook; I wanted to create a new kind of opera from that influence. Around 1950, an Armenian from Korea played me some, ancient Korean court music and I found this terribly exciting. I thought this was the most mysterious music I had ever heard. That had a strong influence.

“The harmony and concept of Gagaku, which came to Japan from China in the 7th century, could readily be applied to any kind of modal melodic line. It is a very original concept and a more natural way of developing modal music than anything ever done in Europe until recently: the whole idea of rhythm versus non-rhythm, of chaos versus complete control or partial control. But this was thousands of years in development’, whereas the European is a rushed, intellectual thing—childish and angular, without much feeling or development, so far, and rather sterile. While I am not interested only in turning to the past, I think music should be beautiful now, just as it always was, and more beautiful, if possible.”

Talin, originally composed in 1952 as a viola concerto, on commission from Ferenc Molnar, is generally regarded by authorities on Hovhaness’ music as one of his finest and most fully consum­mated works. We are therefore pleased to present this first recording of an alternate version of Talin for clarinet and strings. The composer writes:

“I made the clarinet version of Talin for Law­rence Sobol after hearing his splendid and poetic performance of a new work, Saturn, which I wrote for him in 1971. This inspired me to transfer this viola concerto to the clarinet as an alternate version. Talin was an ancient Ar­menian cathedral whose beautiful ruins are a monument of architectural wonder, grandeur, and expressiveness. The first movement, Chant, is in the style and spirit of a priest-like incanta­tion. The middle movement, Estampie, is short and dance-like, in the style of a village festi­val, and imitates the nasal sound of the ka­manche, a near-Eastern bowed string instrument. The third movement, Canzona, is religious and choral-like in spirit and sound, suggesting angelic choirs joined by earthly choirs in a spirit of grandeur creating a tower of sound like the Armenian cathedrals.”

Wayne Barlow was born in Elyria, Ohio, in 1912. He studied with Howard Hanson at the Eastman School of Music and later with Arnold Schoenberg in Los Angeles, returning to Eastman in 1937 as a member of the faculty. The following year The Winter’s Passed was introduced in Rochester, New York, and since then it has become Barlow’s best known work. Scored for oboe and strings, it is a short rhapsody based on two folk songs from South Carolina that illustrate the lovely modal quality of folk melodies from the Appalachian region. The first, which forms the opening and closing por­tions of the piece, is in the mixolydian mode while the melody of the central portion is in the dorian mode.

Jeffrey Kaufman was born in New York City in 1947 and graduated from the Manhattan School of Music where he studied with Nicolas Flagello and Ludmila Ulehla. Kaufman is fast building a reputation as a versatile musician, capable of com­posing in a wide variety of styles for diverse media, both classical and popular. In addition he produced the long-running syndicated radio series Composer’s Forum and has been active as a record producer as well. Kaufman’s Pastorale was composed in 1977, and in its few moments succeeds in creating a mood of poignant nostalgia.

When Nicolas Flagello’s fifth opera, The Judgment of St.Francis, was premiered in New York City, Winthrop Sargeant of the New Yorker termed it “the most vigorous new opera I have come across in a long time,” adding that “Flagello has shown an unmistakable and totally un­confused talent for the operatic theatre.” Completed in 1959, The Judgment of St. Francis depicts through flashbacks the incidents of self-sacrifice and renunciation that led to the rejection and ostracism of Francis of Assisi by his family and friends, culminating in a hearing before the ecclesiastical court, ordered by his father. One of the most beautiful moments of the opera is a solilo­quy sung by Francis while in the dungeon where he has been thrown by his father. Undaunted by this punishment, he sings an Adoration that expresses the infinite joy and ecstasy that he feels in the security of being with God. Flagello has transcribed this Adoration for strings and harp, giving the vocal line to the solo violin. This brief excerpt demonstrates the ardent, elegiac lyricism of which Flagello is a master.

Born in New York City in 1928, Nicolas Flagello evidenced a precocious musical talent, performing in public on the piano and undertaking musical composition before he reached adolescence. He began an intensive and long lasting apprenticeship with Vittorio Giannini and studied conducting with Dimitri Mitropoulos. Shortly after receiving his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Man­hattan School of Music, he was awarded a Ful­bright Fellowship to study in Rome where he received a Doctorate in Superior Studies from the Academy of Santa Cecilia in 1956 under the tutelage of Ildebrando Pizzetti.

Flagello has concertized widely as piano soloist and accompanist and has toured around the world as guest conductor of many of the world’s leading’ orchestras and opera companies. As a composer Flagello has received numerous awards and com­missions, and his works have been performed and recorded extensively. In addition to six operas his catalogue of some 75 works includes two symph­onies, numerous concertos and song cycles, as well as smaller works for virtually every combination. Flagello has taught on the faculties of the Curtis Institute of Music and the Manhattan School of Music.

Jean Berger was born in Hamm, Germany, in 1909 and received a doctorate in musicology from the University of Heidelberg. In Paris during the 1930s he studied composition with Louis Aubert and became increasingly active as a choral con­ductor. After a period in Rio de Janeiro he came to the United States where he has lived and worked since 1941. Although most of Berger’s composi­tional activity has involved choral music, he has written for other media as well. The Short Overture for strings is one such example. This light-hearted work “was written with the purpose of enlarging the repertoire of string music that—while not without challenge—could yet be played and performed by an amateur group.”

FLAGELLO: Contemplazioni di Michelangelo. Cello Capriccio. Lautrec. Remembrance. She Walks in Beauty.

FLAGELLO:  Contemplazioni di Michelangelo. Cello Capriccio. Lautrec. Remembrance. She Walks in Beauty. Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma, Nicolas Flagello, cond; George Koutzen, cello; Nancy Tatum, Joann Grillo, Maya Randolph, sopranos. PHOENIX PHCD-125 [ADD]; 66:43.

If you like traditional Romanticism intensified by post-Romantic harmonic astringency and are still unfamiliar with the music of Nicolas Flagella then you have a treat in store. And if you have already acquired the disc of Flagello’s piano music (Premier PRCD-1014), then you will need no urging to grab this new release featuring vocal and instrumental works with orchestra—some reissued from hard-to-find Serenus LPs released during the mid 1960s, some never released before. For Flagello is America’s greatest—and perhaps final—living exponent of the grand Romantic manner, and most of the works on this disc support that claim. Born and raised in the post-Romantic tradition, he reveres its many masterpieces, traces of which drift through his own music with comfortable familiarity, and I will cite some of them to help the reader identify the music’s “sound.” Yet despite the undeniable reminiscences, Flagello displays a strong creative personality with his own unmistakable vision and a distinctive language through which to project it.

The works on this CD never issued previously are two vocal settings, one of Byron’s She Walks inBeauty,the other of Emily Bronte’s Remembrance. She Walks in Beauty is a song composed in 1957 and dedicated to Flagello’s beloved mentor Vittorio Giannini. It exhibits the same sort of soaring, lush lyricism characteristic of the elder composer. Remembrance, which Flagello set in1971, is a darker and more ambitious composition. Originally scored for soprano and string quartet with flute obbligato but presented here with a larger string group, it evokes a gothic atmosphere haunted by despair and resignation as it expresses a never-forgotten sorrow over the loss years earlier of an irreplaceable love. Remembrance bears a superficial resemblance to the affective ambience of Barber’s Dover Beach and Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, without sounding like either of them.

The other vocal work on the disc is Contemplazioni di Michelangelo, settings of four of the great artist’s sonnets, selected to portray four stages of life and love. This is unquestionably great music, serious in tone and with a grandly impassioned rhetoric, suggesting an amalgamation of Puccini and Strauss, with touches of Respighi. The vocal writing is operatic in scope, the orches­tration masterful in its richness and power, while calling for only a modest-sized ensemble. Not only does the work show great technical assurance, but it displays an unequivocal confidence in its expressive aims often missing from the work of lesser twentieth-century traditionalists.

The other unquestionable masterpiece on this disc is the Capriccio for Cello and Orchestra. Despite its title, there is nothing playful about this work; rather, it is capricious with respect to its formal structure, a self-generating free-form rhapsody on a single three-note motif. This is another dark work—Flagello has a marked propensity for gloomy moods and tragic emotions. Its tone resembles that of Bloch’s Schelorno, but it is more tightly constructed and more emotionally intense (can you believe it?). It is virtuosic without being cheap or shallow, there is not a superfluous note, there is not a phrase that doesn’t contribute in some way to the overall meaning of the work. I cannot understand how this piece, in existence now for thirty years, has failed to enter the active cello repertoire—a repertoire not exactly overflowing with masterpieces. Flagello’s Capriccio ranks with the best.

Lautrec is somewhat out of character for Flagello. A four-movement orchestral suite, it is one of his only works that is descriptive, rather than emotionally expressive—and the third movement is pretty expressive at that. Sumptuously orchestrated, it is richly evocative of Parisian nightlife at the turn of the twentieth century. A more proficient ensemble than Flagello’s pickup group could make a dazzling showpiece of it.

Phoenix is to be congratulated for making this extraordinary music available, although the sound quality shows its age and the performances—adequate for the most past—leave plenty of room for improvement. Flagello is seriously ill and has not been able to compose for nearly a decade. But he leaves a legacy of more than seventy-five works—operas, symphonies, concertos, etc.—remarkable for their consistency of both aspiration and consummation, and accessible to the general listener. There is plenty of music left to discover.

FLAGELLO: Sonata for Violin and Piano. Declamation for Violin and Piano. Harp Sonata. CORIGLIANO: Sonata for Violin and Piano. Music for harp by Tournier, Dussek, Faure, Salzedo, Prokofiev.

FLAGELLO: Sonata for Violin and Piano. Declamation for Violin and Piano. CORIGLIANO: Sonata for Violin and Piano. Eugene Fodor, violin; Arlene Portney, piano. LAUREL LR-137, produced by Herschel Burke Gilbert.

THE VIRTUOSO HARP. Erica Goodman, harp. BIS CD-319 (compact disc), produced by Rob­ert von Bahr. Music by FLAGELLO, TOURNIER, DUSSEK, FAURÉ. SALZEDO,PROKOFIEV

The music of Nicolas Flagello is one of our culture’s well-kept secrets. Very few of his major works have been recorded and most of the recordings that do exist present the music in rather mediocre performances. Yet Flagello is a composer ideally suited to the tastes and values of a large number of today’s listeners. Assuming the grand romantic stance without the embar­rassment or self-conscious distancing of the “New Romantics,” his music is serious in tone, emotionally gripping, and tightly structured, while clearly revealing its roots in the language of turn-of-the-century Europe. Despite developmental techniques that are thoroughly traditional, Flagello’s own voice is so powerful and his conviction so intense that one quickly overlooks the suggestion of anachronism prompted by a birth-date of 1928 and a birthplace of New York City and instead focuses on the distinctive creative personality that emerges.

As one might expect from the foregoing description, the core of Flagello’s output lies in large-scale works for large forces—operas, symphonies, oratorios, concertos, and the like, of which there are many. Of course, the economics of today’s music world successfully ensure that such works remain in oblivion. However, the three pieces offered now in their first recordings, though relatively small in scale, are substantial, mature, and ambitious—representative of his best efforts. And in the fine performances and superb recorded presentations found here, they serve as excellent introductions for those listeners not yet familiar with the music of this remarkable composer. 

The two sonatas date from the early 1960s, a period that saw the appearance of some of Flagello’s most significant works. Both are conventional in outer form: Each is 15 minutes in duration, and each consists of three movements. Both reveal to some degree the composer’s deep spiritual affinity with Ernest Bloch. The harp sonata, in particular, opens with a stern motif quite reminiscent of Bloch’s Concerto Grosso No. 1. As the movement develops, its mood grows turbulent, reflected in writing of considerable textural complexity—quite demanding for the harpist, in view of the instrument’s essential unwieldiness in handling freely chromatic counterpoint. The violin sonata’s first movement also reflects a sense of agitation and turbu­lence, though it opens with a sweet wistfulness. Both movements are highly concentrated, allowing no gratuitous redundancy, yet with plenty of room for their dramas to unfold and for their passionate lyricism to soar.

The slow movements of both sonatas are also conveniently comparable. Both follow a favorite style-format of Flagello’s: the gloomy, dark-hued barcarolle. The Lento of the Harp Sonata is the highpoint of the work—a poignantly simple but hauntingly atmospheric melody framing a climactic central section. The slow movement of the violin sonata is more vocal in character, a somber recitative followed by a plaintive aria. Both movements are directly affecting and thematically memorable in a manner rare in music of recent decades.

Flagello’s final movements lean at times toward a grotesque jocularity that may seem a bit forced and obligatory. (At such times conventional principles of balance seem in conflict with a natural proclivity for darker, weightier subject matter.) The finales of both sonatas might be said to exemplify this tendency, though they do fulfill their roles successfully. The third movement of the harp sonata, in particular, comes close to sustaining the emotional and intellectual depth of the preceding movements, concluding what is certainly one of the most musically sat­isfying solo works in the instrument’s repertoire.

The Declamation is an intensely power-packed work of about eight minutes. Compared to the two sonatas, it is somewhat more “dissonant” in its harmonic language, more angular in its contours and patterns, and more terse and concentrated in its phraseology. (Its somewhat greater astringency is not attributable to its slightly later date of composition [1967] as Flagello’s style has remained essentially unchanged since 1959, although his mature language dis­plays considerable breadth and flexibility.) The work’s title comes from the solemn and declamatory prelude and postlude that present (and recapitulate) the motivic material devel­oped in a central section marked by continual restless turmoil.

The early Violin Sonata of John Corigliano serves as a fascinating counterpart to the Flagello works. Though they occupy roughly the same stylistic “camp,” broadly speaking, among the various “schools” of American music, and are equivalently “modern” in their language, Corigliano’s is drastically different music: high-spirited, showy, and much more “American-sounding.” Its idiom is less individual—derived from Piston, Barber, Bernstein, and Proko­fiev—and its import is far less personal. It is a fun piece, full of energy, graced by pretty melo­dies, and offering an appropriate measure of virtuosic excitement.

For some time Corigliano’s Sonata has been represented by a brilliant and authoritative performance by the composer’s father, with pianist Ralph Votapek. Laurel’s new release features far more up-to-date recording qualities, and Fodor’s performance is somewhat more polished, although not without some technical snags in a few particularly difficult pas­sages. In the Flagello pieces, where there is no recorded competition, Fodor submits vigorous, assured readings that convey the impact of the music with authority. Pianist Arlene Portney offers solid support.

For the remainder of her harp recital, Erica Goodman provides a varied and enjoyable program. The 15-minute Sonatine by the well-known harpist Marcel Tournier inhabits a lush, richly textured impressionist vein. Listeners fond of this language will find it a rewarding piece that offers somewhat more depth than many pieces of the genre. And even Dussek, Bohemian contemporary of Muzio Clementi, is heard to advantage in an absolutely lovely sonata (in one of my least favorite styles). Harpist Carlos Salzedo is represented by a piece called Scintillation, which he wrote in 1936. This is a surprisingly abstract, austere treatment of several Latin ele­ments to form a challenging display piece. The other selections are better-known: Fauré’s richly imaginative Impromptu and Prokofiev’s charming Prelude in C. Goodman surveys this de­manding program with astonishing aplomb, appearing not to be fazed in the least by any of the technical challenges encountered—and the Flagello sonata provides more than its share. In fact, if there is fault to be found, it is in a certain stiffness and coldness of phrasing, where a bit of warmth and flexibility might have been stylistically appropriate. Nevertheless, her playing exhibits a degree of technical security and control rarely encountered on the harp. The sonic ambience provided by BIS is somewhat reverberant, but not at all unpleasant. 

20th Century Harp Sonatas. Harp sonatas by FLAGELLO, HINDEMITH, CASELLA, TAILLEFERRE, and HOUDY

20th-CENTURY HARP SONATAS ● Sarah Schuster Ericsson (hp) ● DORIAN DSL-92106 (68:56)
FLAGELLO Harp Sonata. HINDEMITH Harp Sonata. CASELLA Harp Sonata. TAILLEFERRE Harp Sonata. HOUDY Harp Sonata.

Sarah Schuster Ericsson has been harpist of both the Baltimore Symphony and the Boston Symphony Orchestras. Here she offers a pleasantly varied program within the rubric identified by the collection’s title. Most noteworthy is the 1961 Sonata by American composer Nicolas Flagello. Although he wrote three pieces for harp solo, the Sonata is by far the best known, appearing frequently on recitals and at competitions. In fact, this is the third recording of the work currently available on CD. Typical of his music, but atypical of conventional works for harp, Flagello’s Sonata is dramatic and serious in tone overall, although leavened by a lovely, melancholy waltz-like slow movement, and a briskly exuberant finale. Ericsson’s approach to the work is richly expansive, in striking contrast to Erica Goodman’s meticulously precise, bracing, and unsentimental reading (BIS 319). Some of Flagello’s works can benefit from an expansive approach: For a piece like the Harp Sonata, with dense textures and some rhythmic complexity, a broader approach can allow details to blossom, while a tighter, more metronomic approach can force those details “under the rug,” so to speak. On the other hand, taking expansiveness to an extreme can drain rhythmic energy, and cause the work to lose focus. Perhaps the best recorded account of the Sonata currently available is that of Julie Ann Smith, harpist with the San Diego Symphony. Her magnificent performance of Flagello’s Sonata falls between these two extremes, and is the centerpiece of a lovely recital disc, The Rhapsodic Harp, available from CDBaby.com.

In general Ericsson’s performances are gracious and tasteful, if a trifle hesitant and reserved. Probably the best known work on the program is the Sonata by Paul Hindemith. Ericsson offers an appealing performance of this uncharacteristically warm and lyrical piece. Alfredo Casella (1883-1947), an Italian contemporary of Bartók and Stravinsky, was celebrated as a modernist during the early years of the 20th century, but most of his work has faded from view. His Harp Sonata, composed during World War II, pursues a gentle neo-classicism somewhat similar to the music of Gian-Francesco Malipiero, another contemporary of Casella’s, as well as a fellow countryman. From today’s perspective Casella’s Sonata is a solid, attractive work with the slightly archaic flavor characteristic of the Mediterranean neo-classicists. Germaine Tailleferre is remembered today chiefly as the woman among the early French modernists known as Les Six. Her music leans toward a light-hearted cheerfulness that does not appeal to me. Her Sonata is the least interesting item on the program. Pierick Houdy, a Breton composer who has spent most of his prolific career in Canada, is still active at 80, as far as I know, although he returned to France in his later years. His wife is a harpist, and he composed his Sonata with her in mind. It is a pleasantly melodic, untroubled and untroubling work—another staple of the contemporary harp repertoire.

All in all, this is an ingratiating program, excellently played, and expertly recorded. I suspect that it will please most connoisseurs and enthusiasts of the harp.

FLAGELLO: Piano Sonata; Violin Sonata; Declamation for Violin and Piano; Nocturne for Violin and Piano; Prelude, Ostinato, and Fugue; Suite for Harp and String Trio

Flagello: Piano Sonata; Violin Sonata; Declamation for Violin and Piano; Nocturne for Violin and Piano; Prelude, Ostinato, and Fugue; Suite for Harp and String Trio (Setsuko Nagata, violin; Peter Vinograde, piano). Albany TROY-234

Nicolas Flagello was one of the 20th century’s leading exponents of traditional late-Romantic musical values. Without ever repudiating this aesthetic outlook, he forged a personal musical language and a distinctive body of work shaped by his own temperament and embodying his own perspective on life.

Born in New York City in 1928, Flagello grew up in a musical family with deep roots in Old-World traditions. Something of a prodigy, young Nicolas was composing and performing publicly as a pianist before the age of ten. While still a child, he began a long and intensive apprenticeship with composer Vittorio Giannini, who further imbued him with the enduring values of the grand European tradition. His study continued at the Manhattan School of Music, where he earned both his Bachelor’s (1949) and Master’s (1950) Degrees, joining the faculty immediately upon graduation and remaining there until 1977. During the early 1950s, he won a Fulbright Fellowship to study in Rome, and earned the Diploma di Studi Superiori in 1956 from the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, under the tutelage of Ildebrando Pizzetti.

During the years that followed, Flagello composed at a prodigious rate, producing a body of work that includes six operas, two symphonies, eight concertos, and numerous orchestral, choral, chamber, and vocal works. In addition, he was active as a pianist and conductor, making dozens of recordings of a wide range of repertoire, from the Baroque period to the 20th century. In 1985 a deteriorating illness brought his musical career to an end prematurely. He died in 1994 at the age of 66.

As a composer, Flagello held with unswerving conviction to a view of music as a personal medium for emotional and spiritual expression. This unfashionable view, together with his vehement rejection of the academic formalism that dominated musical composition for several decades after World War II, prevented him from winning acceptance from the reigning arbiters of taste for many years. However, gradually Flagello’s works have begun to win enthusiastic advocacy, as his music is recorded and performed with increasing frequency.

Flagello’s early works–approximately a third of his total output–are unabashedly romantic in style. He made no attempt to conceal their obvious roots in the styles of Puccini, Strauss, Rachmaninoff, and others—the music he loved. But even these early works display an intensity of conviction and a structural mastery that elevate them above the level of mere imitation.

In 1959 Flagello arrived at a more mature compositional voice, ushering in the most productive period of his life. During the 1960s alone, he composed more than 30 works, maintaining a remarkable consistency of both vision and craftsmanship. The luxuriant romanticism of his youth now gave way to a sort of Italianate expressionism, with a tighter phraseology, greater density of texture, astringency of harmonic language, and asymmetry of rhythm. But most important, a deeper, more personal quality emerges–dark, brooding, restless, and often agitated. There is a tremendous emotional intensity and concentration of effect, as every element is focused toward the fullest realization of the intended expression. It was during this decade that all the works on this recording were composed.

Declamation for violin and piano, which dates from 1967, is both concentrated in expression and meticulous in construction, packing a remarkable density of musical activity into a mere nine minutes. All the thematic material is derived from the declamatory cadenza with which the work opens (hence, the title) and the solemn incantation that follows. The body of the work is an agitated Allegro which subjects the motivic material to extensive development. The Allegro culminates in another, more elaborate, cadenza, followed by a return of the incantation, bringing the work to a majestic conclusion.

Prelude, Ostinato, and Fugue, written in 1960, is the first purely instrumental work of Flagello’s compositional maturity. While revealing the composer’s profound reverence for traditional musical forms, it also displays a harsher, more angular, less symmetrical language than one finds in his earlier works. The Prelude begins with a restless, searching quality, before building quickly to a massive climax and then subsiding. Ostinato consists of a set of variations over an ascending minor scale, which functions as a basso ostinato, appearing in several different keys. Beginning with a melancholy lyricism, it too builds to a tempestuous climax. TheFugue is a propulsive piece that makes enormous demands on the virtuosity of the performer. A three-voice exposition is followed by several developmental episodes, culminating in a chordal augmentation of the subject, marked furiosamente, which leads to a hair-raising coda.

Flagello composed the Nocturne for violin and piano in 1969. It is an example of “night music” in the manner of Ernest Bloch—a composer whom Flagello greatly admired, and who wrote many haunting pieces of this kind. Though beginning and ending unambiguously in B minor, the body of the piece maintains a rather tenuous hold on tonality, creating a somber mood of uneasy disquietude.

Suite for Harp and String Trio, dating from 1965, is unusual in being one of Flagello’s few lighter, diverting works from this period. It is also something of a rare stylistic excursion into the realm of French neo-classicism along the lines of “Les Six”. The Suite opens with a vigorous Petite Overture in simple sonatina form. This is followed by a gently wistful Valse, based on a piano piece originally composed in 1953. The work concludes with a lively Rondino alla Giga.

Sonata for Violin and Piano was composed in 1963. The first movement, an Andantino mossoin sonata-allegro form, is built around a theme first presented in a wistful, somewhat melancholy manner, but then transformed into an ardent, surging, declaration. This theme is developed, along with other material, through a course that is alternately agitated and intensely lyrical. The second movement opens with a somber recitative in the violin, punctuated by tolling bell effects in the piano. This soon leads to an aria, Movendo ma andante, suggesting a dark, brooding barcarolle—a type of mood-piece of which Flagello was especially fond. The brief finale is marked Allegro giusto and is a modified sonatina with the character of a burlesque in perpetual motion, bringing the work to a whirlwind finish.

Flagello wrote his Sonata for Piano in 1962. Like the Violin Sonata, it is a thoroughly traditional work in three movements, wholeheartedly embracing the rhetoric and ethos of the romantic virtuoso legacy, but with a turbulent emotional intensity uniquely Flagello’s own. Tightly constructed with an eye toward both expressive and motivic unity, all three movements are based on material that emphasizes the interval of a half-step.

The first movement, Andante con moto e rubato, is a standard sonata-allegro form, except that instead of the usual two themes, one idea in F minor, built from two short motifs, serves to fill the roles of both, appearing at times restless and searching, at others, bold and defiant, and at still others, introspective and ruminative. The second movement begins with a soulful, recitative-like passage, which leads into a gloomy, nocturnal barcarolle. This soon builds to a tremendous climax, which then subsides in dark resignation. The final movement, Allegro vivace guanto possibile, is a whirlwind perpetual-motion toccata that happens to be a full sonata-allegro form, two themes and all.

NICOLAS FLAGELLO: Missa Sinfonica

NICOLAS FLAGELLO (1928-1994)

Missa Sinfonica (1957)

1 Kyrie (6:31)
2 Gloria (6:52)
3 Credo (6:51)
4 Sanctus et Benedictus (7:10)
5 Agnus Dei (7:02)
Total———–(34:38)


World Premiere Recording

National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine
John McLaughlin Williams, conductor

Walter Simmons, Executive Producer
Alexander Hornostai, Session Producer
Andrij Mokrytsky, Recording Engineer
Anthony J. Casuccio, Mastering Engineer
Large Concert Studio, National Radio Company of Ukraine (Kiev), June 14-18, 2006

Publishers: (European-American Music Distributors [www.eamdllc.com])
Flagello: Missa Sinfonica

Program Notes

Nicolas Flagello was born in New York City to a family that had been musically active for generations. He studied both piano and violin as a child, and began composing on his own before the age of ten. He was soon brought to the attention of Vittorio Giannini, a highly esteemed composer and teacher known for his adherence to traditional musical values. Giannini became Flagello’s mentor, and the two developed a close professional and personal friendship that lasted until the older man’s death in 1966. In 1945 Flagello entered the Manhattan School of Music, where Giannini served on the faculty. Earning both his Bachelor’s (1949) and Master’s (1950) degrees there, he joined the faculty himself upon graduating, and remained there for more than 25 years. (For a time during the 1960s he also taught at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia.) Winning a Fulbright Fellowship in 1955, he took a leave to study for a year at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome, working under the elderly Ildebrando Pizzetti, and earning the Diploma di Studi Superiori. 

Throughout his career Flagello’s music embodied traditional romantic musical values, although his later works were intensified by modernist innovations in harmony and rhythm, but without the irony or detachment of postmodernism. For him music remained a personal medium for spiritual and emotional expression. His large and varied body of work includes six operas, two symphonies, eight concertos, and numerous orchestral, choral, chamber, and vocal works. 

When Flagello’s music first appeared on recording, The New Records commented, “If this is not great music, we will gladly turn in our typewriter and quit.” Years later, Mark Lehman wrote in the American Record Guide, “What Flagello brings to his art is, first of all, an absolute conviction in the primacy of emotion: the music throbs with vitality. It can be exciting or turbulent, sweetly melancholy or tragic — but it is always openly and fiercely passionate.” And in Classical Music (Backbeat Books, 2002), Brett Johnson states, “Flagello was perhaps the most effective exponent of the American lyrical post-romantic ideal in the generation that followed Barber. His profound belief in the expressive power of music is manifest in every piece.”

In addition to composing, Flagello was active as a pianist and conductor, and made dozens of recordings of a wide range of repertoire, from the Baroque period to the twentieth century. In 1985 a degenerative illness brought his musical career to an end prematurely. He died in 1994, at the age of 66.

Although much of Flagello’s music remained unheard at the time of his death, in recent years his work has been performed and recorded at an increasing rate, attracting the attention of a new generation of listeners. Violinists Elmar Oliveira and Midori, and conductors Semyon Bychkov and James DePreist are just a few of today’s leading performers who have found in Flagello’s work deeply felt musical content, presented in a clear, comprehensible manner. 

Flagello’s personality and life-style were far from puritanical, yet religious feelings ran strongly within him and he attributed great importance to the role they played in his life. Indeed, he considered all his compositions to be fundamentally spiritual in nature—some pieces more explicitly than others. The Missa Sinfonica was composed in 1957. Along with the 1956 Theme, Variations, and Fugue (Naxos 8.559148), it is the most ambitious purely orchestral work of his early period, which lasted until 1959. Although plainchant provides some of the work’s thematic material, Flagello did not adapt his musical style to suit these ancient modal melodies. Not unlike Paul Creston, whose Third Symphony (Naxos 8.559034) is an emotional response to the Nativity, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ and draws its thematic material entirely from Gregorian Chant, in Missa Sinfonica Flagello expressed his devotional feelings in his own natural musical idiom, with its impassioned, hyper-emotional rhetoric and richly romantic harmonic language. (And, like Creston’s symphony, Flagello’s Missa was criticized after its premiere as insufficiently pious.)

As its title indicates, Missa Sinfonica reflects elements of both the Mass and the symphony. Of its five movements, the first, third, and fifth suggest hymn-like orchestral arias, while the second and fourth are rather scherzoso in character. The work was first performed in November, 1957, by the symphony orchestra of the Manhattan School of Music, under the direction of Jonel Perlea.

FLAGELLO: Violin Concerto; Six Songs; Symphonic Aria; Mirra: Interlude and Dance; The Sisters: Interludio.

Nicolas FLAGELLO: Violin Concerto (Elmar Oliveira, violin); Six Songs (Susan Gonzalez, soprano); Symphonic Aria; Mirra: Interlude and DanceThe Sisters: Interludio. (National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, John McLaughlin Williams, cond) Artek AR 0036-2

NICOLAS FLAGELLO (1928-1994)

1— Symphonic Aria (1951)
(5:54)
Mirra (1955): Interlude and Dance(10:52)
2— Interlude(7:30)
3— Dance(3:17)
4— The Sisters (1958): Interludio(6:37)
Violin Concerto (1956) 
(orchestrated by Anthony Sbordoni)
(29:36)
5— Allegro giusto(13:45)
6— Andante con moto(8:20)
7— Allegro comodo 
Elmar Oliveira, violin
(7:21)

Songs (orchestrated by Anthony Sbordoni)

8— The Rainy Day (1958) 

(4:59)

9— The Brook (1978)

(3:21)

10— Ruth’s Aria (1973)

(3:05)
from Beyond the Horizon, Act III
11– Canto (1978) (4:57)
12– Polo I (1979) (2:29)
13— Polo II (1980) 
Susan Gonzalez, soprano
Total Timing (74:02)
(2:13)

World Premiere Recordings

Recorded at the Large Concert Studio, National Radio Company of Ukraine (Kiev), June 22-26, 2005 [1-4, 11]; June 12-17, 2006 [5-10, 12-13]
Walter Simmons, executive producer
Alexander Hornostai, session producer
Andrij Mokrytsky, recording engineer
Publishers: European-American Music Dist. [1-4]; Maelos Music, Inc. (P.O. Box 363, New Rochelle, NY 10805) [5-13]

Liner Notes

Nicolas Flagello was one of the 20th century’s leading exponents of traditional late-romantic musical values. He held firmly to this aesthetic throughout his life, forging a personal musical language and a distinctive body of work shaped by his own temperament and embodying his own unique perspective on life.

Born in New York City in 1928, Flagello grew up in a musical family with deep roots in Old-World traditions. Something of a prodigy, young Nicolas was composing and performing publicly as a pianist before the age of ten. While still a child, he began a long and intensive apprenticeship with composer Vittorio Giannini, who further imbued him with the enduring values of the grand European tradition. His study continued at the Manhattan School of Music, where he earned both his Bachelor’s (1949) and Master’s (1950) degrees, joining the faculty immediately upon graduation and remaining there until 1977. During the early l950s, he won a Fulbright Fellowship to study in Rome, and earned the Diploma di Studi Superiori in 1956 from the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, under the tutelage of Ildebrando Pizzetti.

During the years that followed, Flagello composed at a prodigious rate, producing a body of work that includes six operas, two symphonies, eight concertos, and numerous orchestral, choral, chamber, and vocal works. In addition, he was active as a pianist and conductor, making dozens of recordings of a wide range of repertoire from the Baroque period to the 20th century. In 1985 a deteriorating illness brought his musical career to an end prematurely. He died in 1994 at the age of 66.

As a composer, Flagello held with unswerving conviction to a view of music as a personal medium for emotional and spiritual expression. This view, unfashionable at the time, together with his vehement rejection of the academic formalism that dominated musical composition for several decades after World War II, prevented him from winning acceptance from the reigning arbiters of taste for many years. However, gradually Flagello’s works have begun to win enthusiastic advocacy, as his music is recorded and performed with increasing frequency.

This compact disc offers a varied array of first recordings drawn from the full span of Flagello’s compositional career. Symphonic Aria (1951) is, as its title suggests, a short orchestral work that gives expression to an emotional state—in this case, darkly melancholic—with an immediacy that is almost operatic in impact. Flagello was fond of such elegiac movements, and wrote many of them: as individual pieces, such as Symphonic Aria; as interludes within operas, two of which appear on this recording; and as slow movements within larger works, such as the central Andante con moto of the Violin Concerto. Symphonic Aria was first performed in 1953 by the Hartt Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Moshe Paranov.

In 1955 Flagello completed a full-length, three-act opera called Mirra, which he later referred to as “my Gurre-Lieder,” by which he meant the magnum opus of his early period. He based the libretto on a tragedy by the great Italian playwright Vittorio Alfieri (1749–1803). Mirra is a horrifying tale of incestuous love within the royal family of ancient Cyprus. Mirra, Princess of Cyprus, has chosen Pereus, the Prince of Epirus, to be her husband. The marriage is to take place the following day, but, to the bewilderment of the King, Queen, and Pereus himself, Mirra seems visibly distraught, although she will not explain why. As the wedding is about to commence, preceded by an elaborate array of ritual ceremonies, Mirra becomes delirious and Pereus, convinced that she is rejecting him, leaves in anger. The remainder of the ceremony is canceled. Shortly thereafter, Pereus kills himself. Finally, after much hesitation, Mirra ardently reveals the true object of her amorous desires: her father, the King himself. He recoils with horror at this revelation and she, inconsolably hopeless, takes a knife and plunges it into her own chest.

The opera is extravagantly romantic in style, brimful of emotional extremes, and requires a large orchestra, full chorus, dancers, plus an on-stage band. Not surprisingly, Mirra has never been staged. However, two orchestral excerpts have been extracted for concert performance, entitled ‘‘Interlude and Dance.’’ Placed in reverse order from their appearance in the opera, the ‘‘Interlude’’ is taken from the prelude to Act III and sets a solemn mood, seething with passionate intensity, while the ‘‘Dance’’ is a wild, orgiastic frenzy that accompanies the ballet sequence from the abortive nuptial ceremony of Act II. The ‘‘Interlude and Dance’’ from Mirrawas first performed by the Billings (Montana) Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Uri Barnea, in 1990.

Flagello’s next opera was The Sisters, a one-act melodrama based on an original libretto by Dean Mundy. Set during the early 1800s in a small town along the Massachusetts coast, the opera depicts the jealousy and hatred that pervade a family of three sisters—two of whom are in love with the same man—and their tyrannically possessive father. Completed in 1958, The Sistersconsists of two scenes, separated by an orchestral interlude. The work was produced by the Manhattan School Opera Theater in 1961, with the composer conducting and his brother Ezio in the role of the father. In what amounts to a miniature tone poem, the “Interludio” captures the emotions that are in play at the end of the first scene: the father’s brutal, unforgiving cruelty, the pleading of the daughter in love, and the viciousness of her jealous sister. The piece may also be seen as a “study” for the slow movement of Flagello’s Symphony No. 1 (available on Naxos 8.559148).

Flagello composed his Violin Concerto in 1956, during the year he spent in Rome, studying with Pizzetti at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia. The work was contemporaneous with the Theme, Variations, and Fugue (also available on Naxos 8.559148), and immediately preceded the Piano Concerto No. 2 (available on Artek AR-0002-2). However, discouraged by the lack of interest in his music, Flagello left many major works, including the Violin Concerto, in short score, intending to orchestrate them if the opportunity for a performance appeared. At the time of his death in 1994, quite a few such works remained in short score, so the Flagello estate engaged the talented composer and music editor Anthony Sbordoni to prepare performing editions of most of these compositions. Although Sbordoni does not claim that his orchestrations are “what Flagello would have done,” he has attempted to score them in a manner that retains the composer’s style, and highlights the inherent character of each piece. The Violin Concerto presented a particular challenge for Sbordoni, as the sole manuscript was badly charred and water-logged from a fire that destroyed many of the composer’s possessions during the late 1970s. However, with painstaking effort, Sbordoni completed the task in 2003. When Elmar Oliveira, who had recorded Flagello’s Credendum (also on Artek AR-0002-2), learned that a performing edition of the Violin Concerto was available, he eagerly agreed to present the first performance, some fifty years after it was composed.

Like Flagello’s other early concertos, the Violin Concerto pursues a conventional—though quite rigorous—approach to form. The first movement, Allegro giusto, is primarily lyrical and dramatic in character, opening with the solo violin’s rather diffident statement of the plaintive main theme, which emphasizes the interval of a fourth in descent, accompanied by gentle punctuating chords in the woodwinds, harp, and celesta. Although the theme is diatonic in its initial presentation, its tonality becomes ambiguous, suggesting a variety of different tonal centers as it unfolds chromatically. A full tutti statement of the theme highlights the minor triad with added major sixth and major ninth as a harmonic structure of importance, while confirming D minor as the primary tonality. Two other ideas are introduced during the exposition, the first of which is clearly derived from the main theme. The second, presented in A-flat minor, serves as a secondary theme, as it ardently surges through a variety of keys, though the primary theme thoroughly permeates the exposition. The presentation of the thematic material elides smoothly into the development section, as the treatment of the solo violin becomes more overtly virtuosic. The development of the thematic material is energized by emotional intensity, thrust forward from climax to climax by propulsive rhythmic patterns with little surcease. Predictably, the development leads to an elaborate and extraordinarily difficult cadenza—in two parts, separated by a brief accompanied passage—followed by a somewhat altered recapitulation of the thematic material.

The second movement, Andante con moto, is another early example of the impassioned lament of which Flagello was so fond. The main motif, built upon the stepwise descent of a fourth, is derived from the first movement’s main theme. After a tentative, tonally ambiguous introduction, the dolorous melodic outpouring establishes itself firmly in B minor, accompanied by a syncopated, pulsating rhythmic pattern, laden with appoggiaturas, that continues virtually without interruption throughout the movement.

The third movement, Allegro comodo, has the character and general shape of a sonata rondo with a tonal center of D. The primary thematic material is based on a triplet idea in perpetual motion, while the secondary theme again emphasizes the interval of a fourth. As the movement proceeds, these ideas are combined contrapuntally, and developed quite extensively, without any deviation from a fundamental focus on virtuosity. The result proves to be a brilliant, fully consummated work, fusing three fundamental aesthetic values: densely integrated thematic development, passionate, uninhibited emotional expression, and untrammeled virtuosic display.

Throughout his career, Flagello composed musical settings of well-known poetry, or, often, of his own texts. Although these songs invariably began as settings for voice and piano, he readily scored them for larger instrumental groups whenever the opportunity arose. For this reason, the Flagello estate authorized Anthony Sbordoni to provide instrumental scores for several songs that the composer had not explicitly intended for orchestra, in addition to some that were so specified.
In 1958, shortly after completing The Sisters, Flagello composed a musical setting of Longfellow’s famous poem, The Rainy Day. Although originally intended for low voice and piano, the song was transposed a third higher at the request of soprano Susan Gonzalez, who was eager to include on this recording what is perhaps Flagello’s most powerful and deeply moving poetic setting. A lugubrious ostinato pattern permeates the accompaniment throughout most of the song. While evoking a gloomy mood, this backdrop suggests slowly falling rain-drops, as the poet first describes the weather, then relates it to the state of his life. Although initially the tonality is stable, with the passage introducing the words, ‘‘My thoughts still cling to the moldering past,’’ the mood becomes darker still, as the harmonic rhythm quickens and the pattern that initially suggested raindrops now conveys something far more menacing. By the fourth iteration of the phrase ‘‘dark and dreary,’’ the ascending ostinato has become hammer-like in its insistence before it suddenly breaks off. Then, in seeming contradiction to the reassurance offered by the lines ‘‘Be still, sad heart and cease repining; behind the clouds is the sun still shining,’’ the ensemble throbs with mounting intensity and dissonance, culminating in what is perhaps the most explosive climax yet composed by Flagello, after which the original ostinato pattern returns, for the concluding lines of the poem.

In 1973 Flagello set another “dark and dreary” text, this time one of his own, which he entitled “Rejection,” for soprano and piano. Later, during the early 1980s, while working on his final opera, an adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s early (1920) Pulitzer Prize-winning tragedy Beyond the Horizon, he decided that “Rejection”—both words and music—ideally captured the state of mind of Ruth, the leading female character, at the beginning of Act III, so he interpolated the song into the opera at that point. It is now published as “Ruth’s Aria.” 

Canto (1978) is another setting of one of Flagello’s own poems, this one in Italian and intended for soprano and orchestra. The poem’s content is enigmatic but tortured, and the musical structure highlights the descending interval of a second, which became a motif of almost autobiographical significance in the composer’s later works. 

Flagello composed The Brook and Polo I and Polo II in 1978, ’79, and ’80 respectively, for his recital tours with soprano Maya Randolph. At the end of the manuscript of The Brook, Flagello wrote, “From thoughts musical remembered,” suggesting the presence of fleeting musical reminiscences. Polo is a genre of flamenco song of Arabian origin.

Liner Notes ©2006 Walter Simmons
Author, Voices in the Wilderness: Six American Neo-Romantic Composers
(Scarecrow Press, 2004)

Elmar Oliveira

website www.elmaroliveira.com

Susan Gonzalez

In addition to a rich and varied career in both opera and concert performance, soprano Susan Gonzalez has been active as a stage director as well. After graduating from the University of Cincinnati, she went on to earn Master’s and Doctoral degrees at the Eastman School of Music. She has appeared with the Chicago Lyric Opera, New Orleans Opera, and with the Bolshoi Opera in Russia, and with the Brooklyn Philharmonic, Cincinnati Symphony, Annapolis Symphony, and the Mozart Players. She has been featured soloist with the National Symphony Orchestra and the American Composers Orchestra, and as a soloist in the major oratorios of Fauré, Brahms, Schubert, and Mozart. Among her honors and prizes have been awards from the Metropolitan Opera, the George London, Leonard Warren, and Baltimore Opera Competitions, from the Liederkranz Foundation, and from the American Opera Association. She received an Emmy nomination for her portrayal of Rosina in a televised production of Il Barbiere di Siviglia, and her recorded recital of songs by women composers has drawn considerable positive attention. Dr. Gonzalez is currently Director of Performance at Hunter College (CUNY), where she teaches vocal technique and stages musical theater productions. She gave the world premiere of the orchestral version of Flagello’s Dante’s Farewell (recorded on Naxos 8.559296).

John McLaughlin Williams

American conductor John McLaughlin Williams has been highly praised for his outstanding interpretive abilities and engaging podium presence. Beginning violin study in Washington, DC, at the age of ten, he was chosen just four years later by the Cabinet wives of the Nixon Administration to appear as soloist with the National Symphony Orchestra in its first Kennedy Center concert series for Washington, DC, school children. He continued his violin studies at Boston University and the New England Conservatory, earning his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the Cleveland Institute of Music. There he pursued violin study with Martin Chalifour, composition with Donald Erb and Margaret Brouwer, and conducting with Carl Topilow. He was a member of the Houston Symphony, concertmaster of the Virginia Symphony, and has appeared as violin soloist with such orchestras as the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra, South Carolina Philharmonic, Portland Symphony, and the Boston Ballet Orchestra. As soloist, he gave the American premieres of the violin concertos by Arnold Bax and Joseph Jongen, and, in 1998, performed the violin concerto of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, whose chamber music he has also recorded. His previous compact discs, including premiere recordings of works by American composers John Alden Carpenter, George Frederick McKay, Henry Hadley, and Nicolas Flagello, have brought him international attention and praise from such publications as Fanfare, Gramophone, Classic FM, International Record Review, American Record Guide and France’s Diapason. His conducting engagements have taken him throughout the United States, where he has focused on contemporary music and music by African-American and minority composers.

Anthony Sbordoni

Composer, orchestrator, and music editor Anthony Sbordoni was born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1947. He attended Hunter College (CUNY), where he studied with Louise Talma, Ruth Anderson, and Myron Fink. He is currently Ensembles Manager at Hunter College and Associate Orchestra Librarian for the American Ballet Theatre. As a composer, Sbordoni has concentrated on vocal and choral music, but he has also written incidental music for theatre and film, all of which display his dedication to the Neo-Romantic aesthetic. In addition to the Violin Concerto, Sbordoni has orchestrated Flagello’s short comic opera The Wig, Dante’s Farewell, Piano Concerto No. 3, and the full-length opera Beyond the Horizon, along with several shorter pieces. As a result of his efforts, these valuable works have been brought to life and made viable for performance and recording. 

The Rainy Day
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the moldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.
My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the moldering Past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast
And the days are dark and dreary.
Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

The Brook
Alfred, Lord Tennyson

I steal by lawns and grassy plots, 
I slide by hazel covers; 
I move the sweet forget-me-nots 
That grow for happy lovers. 
  
I slip, I slide, I gloom, I glance, 
Among my skimming swallows; 
I make the netted sunbeam dance 
Against my sandy shallows. 
  
I murmur under moon and stars 
In brambly wildernesses; 
I linger by my shingly bars; 
I loiter round my cresses; 
  
And out again I curve and flow 
To join the brimming river, 
For men may come and men may go, 
But I go on forever.

Ruth’s Aria
(from Beyond the Horizon, Act III)
text by Nicolas Flagello

I now know what I did not know before:
The wounds of mind, and heart, and soul,
That further open the void of uselessness;
To sear and burn without heat,
To lie frigid without cold,
To taste the maximum fear,
Flooded by vicious thoughts,
I now know what I did not know before,
To writhe in pain and hurt,
To hear violent roars,
To know the bitter truth
At the altar of nothingness
And mutely weep.

Canto
Nicolas Flagello

Sento il canto d’una volta di una pace, 
Di brezze fresche, 
E sento l’ostinato duro e fisso che non perdona.
E sento ancor il suon si muto, muto
Ahi me! Non cede, sono schiavo trovator
Mi trovo palude e melma la qua le mi porta di là a quella fessura del anima
Ah! Odo il canto, quel bel canto
Chi osa gioia perso va!
Chi gioia carezza trova ancor a mirar l’eternita.

I hear the song of a peaceful time
Of fresh breezes
And I hear a relentless, unforgiving sound
I also hear a silent song, so mute.
Alas! It doesn’t stop, I’m a troubadour-slave.
I find myself trapped in a swamp where the mire approaches, filling my hollow soul.
Ah! I hate that song, that beautiful song;
He who dares to challenge joy will be lost!
He who caresses joy will set his sights on eternity.
Translation by Robert DiScipio

POLO I
traditional

Cuerpo bueno, alma divina Fine body, divine soul
Que de fatigas me cuestas. What hardships you tell me.
Despierta si estás dormida Wake up if you are sleeping, 
Y alivia por Dios. Soothed by God.
Por Dios penas! By God! You suffer so!
Mira que si no fallezco See that if I don’t die
La pena negra me acaba The black misery wears me out.
Tan solo con verte ahora If only I could see you now
Mis pesares se acabáran My sorrows will be over
Que fatigas que ya expiro. Ay! Ay! What hardships, though soon I die. Ay!Ay!

POLO II
traditional

Adiós con el corazón Good-bye from my heart
Que con el alma no puedo … But not from my soul …
Despedirme de ti When going away from you
Al despedirme me muero … When going away I die …
Tú serás el bien de mi vida You will be all that is good in my life
Tú serás el bien de mi alma You will be all that is good in my soul
Tú serás el pájaro pinto You will be my speckled bird
Que alegra y canta por la mañana That sings with delight in the morning.
Adiós, mi amor, adiós mi amor, Good-bye my love, good-bye my love,
Adiós mi amor, amor. Good-bye my love.

Program Notes: THE SISTERS by Nicolas Flagello

Nicolas Flagello was one of the last composers to develop a distinctive mode of expression based wholly on the principles and techniques of European late-Romanticism. Born in New York City in 1928, Flagello grew up in a highly musical family with deep roots in Old-World traditions. A child prodigy, young Nicolas was composing and performing publicly as a pianist before the age of ten. While still a youth, he began a long and intensive apprenticeship with composer Vittorio Giannini, who further imbued him with the enduring values of the grand European tradition. His study continued at the Manhattan School of Music, where he earned both his Bachelor’s (1949) and Master’s (1950) Degrees, joining the faculty immediately upon graduation, and remaining there until 1977. (During the 1960s he also taught at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia.) In 1955 he won a Fulbright Fellowship to study in Rome, and earned the Diploma di Studi Superiori the following year at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, under the tutelage of Ildebrando Pizzetti.

During the years that followed, Flagello composed at a prodigious rate, producing a body of work that includes six operas, two symphonies, eight concertos, and numerous orchestral, choral, chamber, and vocal works. In addition, he was active as a pianist and conductor, making dozens of recordings of a wide range of repertoire, from the Baroque period to the twentieth century. In 1985 a deteriorating illness brought his musical career to an end prematurely. He died in 1994, at the age of 66.

As a composer, Flagello held with unswerving conviction to a view of music as a personal medium for emotional and spiritual expression. This unfashionable view, together with his vehement rejection of the academic formalism that dominated musical composition for several decades after World War II, prevented him from winning acceptance from the reigning arbiters of taste for many years. However, during the years since his death, Flagello’s music has been performed and recorded at an increasing rate, introducing his work to a new generation of listeners. More than forty of his works can now be found on some twelve compact discs on a variety of labels. Among today’s leading performers who have featured Flagello’s music are violin superstars Midori, Elmar Oliveira, and Setsuko Nagata, conductors James DePreist, Semyon Bychkov, David Amos, and John McLaughlin Williams, soprano Susan Gonzalez, and pianists Peter Vinograde, Tatjana Rankovich, and Joshua Pierce. These musicians have found in Flagello’s work deeply felt musical content, presented in a clear, comprehensible manner.

The Sisters, composed in 1958, was Flagello’s third opera. A one-act melodrama in two scenes separated by an orchestral interlude, The Sisters is based on an original libretto by Dean Mundy. Set in ‘‘a town off the coast of Massachusetts,’’ the opera depicts the jealousy and hatred that pervade a family of three sisters, two of whom are in love with the same man, and their brutal, controlling father who will not tolerate any disobedience from his daughters. The characters are archetypes  of melodrama: the sweet, innocent sister, the vicious, jealous sister, and the maternal, protective sister; the dashing, virile hero, and the cruel, tyrannically possessive father. Their behavior follows a disastrous course that ends as one of the daughters forces her sister off a cliff to her death.

The musical language of The Sisters veers between warm, ardent lyricism during tender, amorous moments, and more angular, irregular, dissonant passages when the father and the evil daughter are portrayed. The entire work is thoroughly integrated around a few short motifs. There is a poignant trio, a voluptuous love-duet, and several other lovely lyrical moments, as well as some solemn evocations of mood, such as the ‘‘Interludio’’ that separates the two scenes. (This “Interludio,” incidentally, has just been released on a new recording on the Artek label.)

The Sisters was first presented by the Manhattan School of Music Opera Theater in February, 1961, with the composer conducting and his brother Ezio (then a world-famous operatic bass-baritone) in the role of the father. Reviewing that performance for the New York Herald Tribune, John Gruen described the opera as “first rate,” adding, “Mr. Flagello has the gift of writing gratefully for the voice, and his music has melodic sumptuousness. His orchestral texture is crystal-clear, and he knows how to underline dramatic events.” Tonight’s  production is the opera’s first since the premiere 46 years ago.