Margola violin 96652

Franco Margola (1908-1992)
Music for Violin, Piano and Orchestra
Concerto dell’alba, for violin and string orchestra, dC292 (1982)
Kinderkonzert No.2, for violin and orchestra, dC109 (1954)
Sonata in D, for violin and piano, dC12 (1931)
Doppio concerto, for violin, piano and string orchestra, dC132 (1960)
Variazioni sopra un tema giocoso, for strings, dC143 (1965)
Davide Alogna (violin), Costantino Catena (piano)
Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano/Pietro Borgonovo
rec. 2021, Milan
Brilliant Classics 96652 [82]

I was rather late in discovering Franco Margola and his music, only doing so by a happy accident more than twenty years after his death. In 2004/5 our younger daughter spent several months working at a law firm in Milan, as part of her degree in French and Italian. My wife and I made several visits to Milan to see her (and, let’s be honest, to see the city too). I made one visit on my own; early in that visit, I noticed a poster advertising a chamber music concert in a church near the small hotel in which I was staying. The programme consisted of violin sonatas by Mozart, Debussy and Respighi. At the concert I sat next to a young Italian couple, with whom I chatted at the interval; at the end they invited me to join them for a glass of wine in a bar nearby. They turned out to be postgraduate students at the city’s conservatory, the young man being a pianist and his girlfriend a violinist.

We discussed the concert briefly (in the process discovering that their English was very much better than my Italian) and moved on to broader questions about our musical tastes. At one point they asked me which Italian composers of the twentieth century I found particularly interesting. So far as I remember, I mentioned such names as Respighi, Casella, Malipiero, Castelnuovo Tedesco and Dallapiccola (a very mixed bag, stylistically speaking!). They then asked me what I felt about the music of Franco Margola and I confessed that although I had come across his name I knew nothing about him and hadn’t heard any of his music! The two of them (I am ashamed that I have forgotten their names by now) had a brief conversation in Italian and then, turning back to English, invited me to the flat they shared on the following evening, where I “could listen to some music by Margola”. I was, of course, happy to accept their invitation (knowing that my daughter had a work-based social gathering then).

I turned up at the flat expecting to listen to LPs or CDs. To my surprise, my hosts announced that they would perform two of Margola’s violin sonatas (nos. 4 and 5) for me. I found the sonatas delightful, not especially profound, or emotionally challenging, but elegantly melodic, the writing for the violin strikingly lyrical and the textures attractively lucid. Naturally I was grateful to the two of them and was relieved that I had brought along a good bottle of wine to thank them for their generosity and hospitality. They had planted a valuable seed in my mind and ever since I have been eager for opportunities to hear more of Margola’s music. I tried to find out more about Margola, but little seems to have been written about him in English, and it wasn’t until I had access to O. D. Carli’s Franco Margola: catalogo delle opera (Brescia, 1993) and a volume of essays edited by R. Cresti, Linguaggio musicale di Franco Margola (Milan, 1995) that I was able to learn much about him. (The numbers used in the list of works at the head of this review come from O. D. Carli’s Catalogo delle opera).

Margola’s advanced musical studies, in the years either side of 1930, were in violin (in Brescia) and composition (in Parma with Achille Longo, Guido Guerrini and others). From 1936 to the mid-1970s Margola taught at Conservatoires and Academies throughout Italy, including spells in Cagliari, Bologna, Milan, Parma and Rome. In the 1930s he and his music benefited from the support and interest of Alfredo Casella, and Margola became a minor, but significant figure on the Italian musical landscape. However, after World War II, as many Italian musicians became increasingly fascinated by international modernism rather than the Italian tradition, Margola’s music and standing were affected. Emiliano Giannetti quotes the composer’s own words, without specifying their exact source, in which he says that “a new fact suddenly altered the course of my education: the Second World War […] thus it was that later, and for some years, I had horror at any manifestation of violence and, having become intolerant of any sound harshness, aimed at a relaxing production almost as if it were an antidote. Production than can be easily devalued in the light of modern criticism”.

Having now heard much more of Margola’s music – though far from all of it – my first impressions of it on hearing the unexpected private recital detailed earlier seem to have been largely accurate. Margola’s music suggests that its composer was a man with a gentle and sensitive soul. On the occasion of his Double Concerto of 1960, Margola explained that “After trying, for some years to force my musical nature to the dodecaphonic technique, and after having found an absolute moral irreconcilability with such sound climate, I decided to resume what I consider to be my exact life: that of the silent craftsmanship which, in absolute modesty, operates outside the clamor and controversy” (translation by Marco Morello). Putting aside the intellectual complexities of serial music, Margola ‘s compositions are marked by their ready accessibility and clear formal structures, the material handled with what might, paradoxically, be described as a kind of sophisticated innocence. It is never simplistic but avoids needless or self-justifying complexity. The Kinderkonzert No.2 (1954/5) illustrates such qualities, with violinist Davide Alogna an eloquent interpreter of Margola’s cantabile writing for the soloist.

The kinds of emotions/ states of mind with which Margola’s music most often expresses can be characterised concisely with reference to his Variazioni sopra un tema giocoso / Variations on a playful theme of 1965. In the process of its composition, Margola changed the adjective describing the nature of his theme several times; earlier versions used the phrase tema primaverile (spring theme), tema festoso (festive theme) and tema gioioso (joyful theme). One or more of those adjectives would generally be sufficient to describe any of Margola’s fully mature works, i.e. those composed post-World War II when he had made more conscious decisions (such as his rejection of the dodecaphonic) as part of a way of being true to his own musical nature. In some earlier works, such as the Violin Sonata recorded here, the emotional range is wider though the work is less distinctively his.

The Violin Sonata in D was composed early in 1931 when Margola was studying with Achille Longo. As one might expect from a student of Longo (who had a profound knowledge of harmony and counterpoint) the sonata is a thoroughly competent piece of work, technically speaking, but seems to me – even in this assured performance – rather impersonal, the work of a composer attempting idioms with which he is not fully sympathetic. The sonata doesn’t, in short, feel true to its composer’s real sensibility. I would make a partial exception in the case of the second movement (Largo), in which one can hear anticipations of the mature Margola. I suspect that if those generous students in Milan had chosen to play this early sonata for me, they might not have sparked my interest in Margola.

An important event in the career of the mature Margola came in 1954 when no less a pianist than Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli performed his Kinderkonzert 1, for piano and orchestra. The success of the work did much to re-establish the composer’s name in Italy; as Emiliano Giannetti observes it “attracted the attention of the public to the always fresh and light writing of [the] composer”. Margola soon followed the piece with his Kinderkonzert 2, this time for violin and orchestra. It, too, is a delightfully approachable piece, full of charm, with some beautiful and quietly thoughtful passages in the first of its three movements, and some seemingly static and oneiric writing in its central movement (Sostenuto). The closing movement (Allegro) contains some attractive and impressive cantabile writing for the soloist, well played by David Alogna. The technical demands made on the soloist (which are surely informed by Margola’s early study of the violin) approach the virtuosic, but the movement is never in any danger of becoming a ‘display’ piece. For me this is one of the highlights of the present disc.

Other highlights are the Doppio concerto / Double concerto for violin, piano and string orchestra (1960) and the Concerto dell’alba (1982). The Concerto dell’alba was originally designed to be a third ‘Kinderkonzert’, but Margola finally decided on a different title. He told the publisher Zambona that the new title “meant ‘the Violinist’s Dawn’” (quoted thus by Emiliano Giannetti). In the life of a day, dawn is, of course, analogous to childhood, so the change of titles doesn’t involve a radical difference of implication; one major work on traditional symbolism affirms that “dawn is forever young, never ageing, never dying, symbolic of infinite potentiality […] the symbol of light, the promise of fullness and a wellspring of hope”, (Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbraint, Dictionnaire des symbols, 1973-4; translation by John Buchanan-Brown, Penguin Dictionary of Symbols, 1966, p.275). The concerto was written early in 1982, when the composer was 73, but clearly still thinking in terms of illumination and hope. Such qualities, along with sense of future possibilities, permeate this work, notably in the lyricism of its first movement (Cantabile), in which the interplay of soloist and orchestra has a striking assurance and a sense of growing light. In the Lento which follows the soloist evokes a degree of sadness, which is contained, as it were by the gentle assurance and certainty of the orchestral writing.

The Doppio concerto / Double concerto for violin, piano and string orchestra is in the same three-movement form as Margola’s other concerti, its movements being marked Allegro imperioso, Adagio and Allegro. The opening Allegro lives up to the adjective imperioso, although this is quite a rare dimension in Margola’s music; there are passages of substantial authority, the string orchestra used to powerful effect. Of the ensuing two movements one might say much the same as has been said earlier in this review, save for the added richness of the interplay between the two soloists. Davide Alogna plays a violin of 1744 by Giovanni Battista Guadagnini (on loan from Altmeyer Fine Violins of London), while pianist Costantino Catena is seated at a modern Yamaha piano. Both soloists make a very good impression, showing a clear understanding of Margola’s characteristic musical idiom and sensibility. The poignant central Adagio is especially treasurable, the playing of the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano, conducted by Pietro Borgonovo being beautifully judged. The closing Allegro has a playful charm, with some pleasing conversation between the soloists above some sensitive orchestral writing.

While it has to be admitted that the emotional range of Margola’s music is rather narrow, it is consistently well-made and lucidly ‘argued’. It seems always to have an air of spontaneous directness, as if it has come from the composer without excessive planning or revision; formally and texturally it is pellucid and very well crafted. If not a great innovator or an especially profound artist, Margola is an impressive craftsman, faithful to the truth of his own sensibility.

Glyn Pursglove

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