New in January from Naxos American Classics: Works by John Corigliano and Vittorio Giannini

On January 27, Naxos releases the latest recording by Pulitzer, Oscar, Grammy®, and Grawemeyer winner John Corigliano, Symphony No. 3, ‘Circus Maximus’ (Naxos 8559601). Scored for a large concert band encircling the audience, the work is performed here by the University of Texas Wind Ensemble, led by Jerry Junkin. The recording also features Corigliano’s 1979 band work Gazebo Dances, inspired by “the pavilions often seen on village greens in towns throughout the countryside, where public band concerts are given on summer evenings”.

Recently nominated for a Grammy® Award in the category of Best Composition for Mr. Tambourine Man,
Mr. Corigliano has written:

“For the past three decades I have started the compositional process by building a shape, or architecture, before coming up with any musical material. In this case, the shape was influenced by a desire to write a piece in which the entire work is conceived spatially. But I started simply wondering what dramatic premise would justify the encirclement of the audience by musicians, so that they were in the center of an arena. This started my imagination going, and quite suddenly a title appeared in my mind: Circus Maximus.

The Circus Maximus of ancient Rome was a real place-the largest arena in the world. 300,000 spectators were entertained by chariot races, hunts, and battles … The shape of my Circus Maximus was built both to embody and to comment on this massive and glamorous barbarity. It utilizes a large concert band, and lasts approximately 35 minutes. The work is in eight sections that are played without pause.”

In January, Naxos also releases Vittorio Giannini: Piano Concerto and Symphony No. 4 (Naxos 8559352), featuring world-premiere recordings of his 1934 Piano Concerto and the Symphony No. 4. Giannini completed the latter in 1959, and it received its premiere in 1960 by the Juilliard Orchestra, led by Jean Morel. This recording features Daniel Spalding, founder and conductor of the Philadelphia Virtuosi, Romanian-born pianist Gabriela Imreh, and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.

The American composer and teacher Vittorio Giannini was born in Philadelphia in 1903. He studied the violin from an early age, won a scholarship to the Milan Conservatory, and, in 1925, entered The Juilliard School. In 1932, he won the first of three consecutive Prix de Rome. During the 1930s, several of his works-notably his operas Lucedia (1934) and The Scarlet Letter (1938) and his Requiem (1937)-enjoyed critical success in Europe. Giannini is, however, perhaps best-known for his popular song, “Tell me, Oh blue, blue Sky!”, a collaboration with poet Karl Flaster, who also provided the libretti for both of the aforementioned operas. When Giannini returned to the United States, he joined the teaching staff at Juilliard and Manhattan School of Music and also taught at Curtis. (Notably, Giannini was one of Corigliano’s teachers, possibly at Manhattan School of Music.) In 1963, he founded and became the first president of the North Carolina School of the Arts.

Considering many of his American contemporaries were exploring neo-classicism and twelve-tone composition, Giannini’s adherence to a late neo-Romantic style, more in line with Wagner and Puccini, was remarkable. Conductor Daniel Spalding notes that his search for his Piano Concerto required a great deal of detective work: “The first time I learned about the existence of Giannini’s Piano Concerto was about 10-11 years ago in 1997, while researching him in the vast and impressive Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music of the Philadelphia Free Library. At that time Giannini’s work wasn’t known much with the exception of his band music and his Concerto Grosso for strings, which I have conducted before … Out of one of the very few Giannini manuscripts that the library has, his obituary from The New York Times fell out and it happened to mention the existence of the Piano Concerto.”

Spalding’s search for the elusive Piano Concerto eventually took him to the libraries at Juilliard, Curtis, Manhattan School of Music, the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Library of Congress, among others, with little success. Finally, a librarian at the North Carolina School for the Arts (Gianinni’s last position) pointed him in the right direction, leading him to Wachovia Bank’s headquarters. After many months and calls, Spalding relates, “we were sitting in a large, icy cold office in Winston Salem, North Carolina, waiting anxiously to have the box brought up. And, as an added bonus, in a totally different box was a two-piano reduction, professionally copied in Rome and much more legible. I knew by then that the Piano Concerto, completed in 1934, was premiered in 1937 at Carnegie Hall in New York. Rosalyn Tureck was the pianist with the National Orchestral Association, [with] Leon Barzin conducting.”

Initial reviews for the work were positive; Francis Perkins, in the New York Herald Tribune, commented: “The opulence and expansiveness of Mr. Giannini’s score proved welcome.” Likewise, Robert Simon of The New Yorker enjoyed its “juicy melodies” and “healthy virtuoso bounce.”

This performance, featuring Spalding’s wife, pianist Gabriela Imreh, restores the original and extremely difficult octave passagework possibly edited out by Ms. Tureck due to “pencilled in tempo markings,” which, Spalding comments, “seem much faster than the composer’s own” and which might have been the choice of Maestro Barzin.