by Walter Simmons
Nicolas FLAGELLO: Violin Concerto (Elmar Oliveira, violin); Six Songs (Susan Gonzalez, soprano); Symphonic Aria; Mirra: Interlude and Dance; The 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)|
|4— The Sisters (1958): Interludio||(6:37)|
|Violin Concerto (1956) |
(orchestrated by Anthony Sbordoni)
|5— Allegro giusto||(13:45)|
|6— Andante con moto||(8:20)|
|7— Allegro comodo |
Elmar Oliveira, violin
Songs (orchestrated by Anthony Sbordoni)
8— The Rainy Day (1958)
9— The Brook (1978)
10— Ruth’s Aria (1973)
|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)
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]
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)
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.
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.
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.
(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.
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
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!
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.