Musa Italiana - Mendelssohn, Schubert, Mozart - Filarmonica della Scala / Riccardo Chailly. © 2022 Universal Music Operations Ltd

CD Spotlight

Dance or Die

GERALD FENECH enjoys a disc exploring the influence of Italy on Austrian and German composers

'... performances full of rhythmic energy, explosive colours and, above all, harmonic ingenuity.'


This highly enjoyable issue has as much to do with the conductor as with the music. When one talks about Italian music, its influence on composers of other countries cannot be discarded, and the programme on this CD focuses precisely on this fact. Musa Italiana celebrates the influence of the 'Italian style' on three Austro-German composers of immense stature: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Schubert and Felix Mendelssohn.

Mendelssohn's Fourth Symphony, in A, was composed during a ten-month Grand Tour of Italy between 1829 and 1831 while in his early twenties. It draws inspiration from the country's natural beauty, culture and music, most notably in the 'saltarello' rhythms employed to great effect in the Symphony's 'tarantella' finale, in which Mendelssohn generates white heat excitement. The version on this recording is that of the 1834 revision where, according to Chailly, Mendelssohn managed to make the work more dramatic. In Chailly's words: 'The finale - which is a tarantella where, when you are bitten by a tarantula, you have to dance or die. These are moments of high drama in a work that is famous for its joy and beauty.'

Listen — Mendelssohn: Saltarello Finale (Italian Symphony)
(4852944 track 3, 0:00-0:59) ℗ 2022 Universal Music Operations Ltd :

By the late 1810s the musical innovations of Gioacchino Rossini had taken Vienna by storm and clearly had a profound effect on Franz Schubert. His two overtures in the 'Italian' style, in C and D major respectively, both composed in 1817, pay tribute to the great man from Pesaro. The one in D quotes from the opera Tancredi and the other in C features a version of the exciting 'Rossini' crescendo.

Listen — Schubert: Overture in the Italian Style in C
(4852944 track 5, 2:38-3:33) ℗ 2022 Universal Music Operations Ltd :

Visits to Italy early in his life proved formative in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's musical development. The three overtures to Mitridate, Re di Ponto (1770), Ascanio in Alba (1771) and Lucio Silla (1772) included on this album were all originally premiered in Milan. As Chailly says: 'I think they are part, want it or not, of the "La Scala" tradition, and the orchestra plays them with such conviction and dedication, because they are difficult pieces to get right.'

Listen — Mozart: Mitridate, rè di Ponto Overture
(4852944 track 7, 4:49-5:45) ℗ 2022 Universal Music Operations Ltd :

At this stage some information about the recording would not be amiss. Recorded in Dolby Atmos in La Scala's auditorium during the pandemic, this album utilises the famous 'La Scala' acoustic in a unique way. In Chailly's words again: 'Because of the pandemic and the need for more space between the players, a new floor was created over the seats of the parquette (stalls). And it says much for the genius of Giuseppe Piermarini, the architect of La Scala, because right at the centre of the theatre, the acoustic is spectacular. La Scala's acoustic tends towards the dry in order to assist the voices, but out of the pit the sound is wonderful.'

Riccardo Chailly has been Musical Director of La Scala since 2015, where he previously launched his career at the age of twenty as assistant to Claudio Abbado, and this music is very much in his blood. Indeed, the La Scala players deliver performances full of rhythmic energy, explosive colours and, above all, harmonic ingenuity. Most evident is Chailly's perceptive conducting, which is consistently fiery and exuberantly animated as with all Italian music-making. Enjoyably memorable on all fronts.

Copyright © 5 May 2022 Gerald Fenech,
Gzira, Malta









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