A Chain of Magnificence in Villa Torlonia – Costantino Catena plays Wolf-Ferrari

A superb display of musicianship and virtuosity in the true magnificence of Teatro Torlonia in Rome.

Arricia –  Costantino Catena in front of ‘Saint’Agostino e il Bambino’ by Alessandro Mattia
A continuous ‘chain’ of notes of sumptuous beauty in the extraordinary hands of Costantino ‘Catena’ .
From the opening Schumannesque Bagatelles of Wolf-Ferrari to the truly transcendental display of the Liszt Norma fantasy.
Taking in the rarely heard Gesange der Fruhe one of the last works of Schumann.
It is a work that Guido Agosti often had on his music stand and that he loved to play so much.
The Carnaval Jest of Vienna completed a fascinating programme from a master pianist.
The concert was presented by Giovanna Manci Accademia Sfaccendati a friend and colleague of long standing.
We gave many lieder/song recitals together and even recorded the music for ‘Cosi e se vi pare’ by Pirandello, the last work directed by the legendary Orazio Costa Giovangili.
It toured the world for many years with my wife Ileana Ghione whose birthday it would have been today 15th January.

The last public performance of the musicologist Michael Aspinall who wrote the cadenzas for Caballe and Sutherland .They even came to applaud him in Rome .Now dedicated to teaching some of the finest young singers in career
Our bank manager had told us that his daughter had a nice voice and could she audition for us.
Her voice was of a ravishing beauty in the words of Michael Aspinall,with whom we recommended she studied immediately after we too had been seduced by the agility and beauty of her voice.

Costantino Catena with Giovanna Manci
A great singing career eluded her as she and her husband Giacomo Fasolo dedicated themselves to promoting young musicians via their Coop Art based in the magnificent Palazzo Chigi in Arricia in the hills above Rome.
It was just this organisation now in its 40th year that had collaborated with the ever attentive Valerio Vicari of Roma 3 University in presenting their discovery of Wolf-Ferrari.
It had brought them to Teatro Torlonia,one of the principal homes of Roma 3,which also includes Teatro Palladium and their own Aula Magna.
Promoting the almost unknown chamber works of Ermanno Wolf -Ferrari with the remarkable Neapolitan pianist Costantino Catena.
His first recording in this series was recorded at Palazzo Chigi in Ariccia.
To follow are CDs of the works for violin and piano and Quintets in a series that aims at a revalutation of this much neglected composer.
Villa Torlonia,the residence of Mussolini had also been neglected for obvious reasons.
Wolf -Ferrari ,being the son of the German painter August Wolf and Venetian mother Emilia Ferrari had found himself in the same conflict as Furtwangler and many others for working under the Nazi regime.
However in recent times Villa Torlonia has been restored to its magnificence and given to the Italian people for cultural events.
It is time now to revalue the chamber works of Wolf-Ferrari .His operas have long been accepted and performed in the greatest opera houses.
It has taken Costantino’s searching mind and curiosity to bring his many neglected works to our attention now.

Costantino Catena-“Catena jumps through all the circus hurdles with grace and fluidity in the ‘Tarantella di Bravura sulla Muette’ di Portici by Liszt and shows extreme sensibility in ‘RW- Venezia’ capturing all the desolation of Liszt at Wagner’s funeral” Bryce Morrison Gramophone
Costantino Catena’s early training was from the School of Luigi D’Ascoli in Salerno.He was much influenced and helped by Aldo Ciccolini,Joaquin Achucarro and Michele Campanella but also obtained degrees in Philosophy and Psychology from Naples University!
His inquisitive mind and quite extraordinary musicianship is allied to a transcendental technique that seems to have no limits.
It also allowed him to unearth the manuscript in the Staatsbibliothek in Munich of the Bagatelle that opened todays recital and is the first work on his new CD.

The first in a series of CD’s dedicated to the chamber works of Wolf-Ferrari and produced in Ariccia.The cover is a painting of brother Teodoro Wolf – Ferrari(1876-1945)
As Luca Ciammarughi (another remarkable artist from the Ariccia stable) states in the programme notes of the CD “we are closer to the world of Brahm’s Klavierstucke than that of Beethoven.There is also a certain theatricality in Wolf-Ferrari’s piano pieces,not only in their life like humour-but in their writing which is characterised by continuous contrasts in which the pauses and the interruptions purposely disturb the serene flow of line”

The concert programme at Teatro Torlonia
I would go even further and say they are more similar to the sound world of Schumann with his Floristan and Eusebius contrasts that characterise the inner conflict and anguish than affected them both.
Amazingly Costantino had also re -constructed the first of the Bagatelles that was based on the unfinished sketch left by the composer.
This first of the 6 Bagatelles was very imposing indeed immediately dissoving into a delicate cantabile.Even the rhythmic scherzo type bagatelle had something of the sound world of Schumann as certainly also the sumptuous delicacy reminded one of Kreisleriana.
The last Bagatelle was of a grandeur that might be almost Rachmaninov with its great horn like melody and bells ringing.
There was a very impressive pianissimo ending too that showed off the enormous range that this remarkable pianist could find on a quite modest Yamaha B piano.
It may not have been just a coincidence that the recital continued with two important works of Schumann from both his early and late periods.

The beautiful Teatro Torlonia
The Faschingsshwank aus Wien op 26 (Carnaval Jest of Vienna ) was given a very musicianly reading with a great sense of architectural line.There was a sumptuous full sound (hard to believe it was a Yamaha) and a foreward movement that was quite exhilarating.The melody was played with a delicate passion ,the swirling accompaniment never overpowering the flow of Schumann’s melodic invention.The syncopated chords were played with a delicacy without a trace of sentimentality.
I am not sure I would have slowed the march section down to accomodate the Marseillaise.Schumann certainly does not ask for it but then Costantino is a great artist and if that is his decision there must be a reason and it was very impressive!
There was beauty and delicacy to the sound in the Romanze played with a simplicity and real sense of line.The Scherzino was rather on the light side with some rather clipped phrasing that was not so convincing and not asked for by Schumann.The Intermezzo was passionately played with great sonority dissapearing to a magical whisper as it heralded the Finale.There were some strange fluctuations in tempo and again clipped ending to phrases instead of just shaping but there was great forward movement and the presto coda brought the piece to an impressive ending.

The camera cannot quite keep up with Maestro Catena in certain parts
The Gesange de Fruhe op 133 (Songs of Dawn) were beautifully played and showed even more the influence that Schumann had obviously had on Wolf-Ferrari.
It is a comlex work and I fear the audience got lost by the end!
There was a beautiful musicianly sense of line and architectural shape and a relentless rhythmic impetus to the Lebhaft.
The most beautiful of these strange late pieces is the fourth and it is the one that both Agosti and Fou Ts’ong would play over and over again.It is very similar to the last of Brahms Ballades op 10 and here it was beautifully shaped with the accompanying figurations quite magically following Schumann’s beautiful melodic line.
There was no applause as the audience had obviously got lost!

The public staircase to the Theatre
No matter because the opening fanfare of the Norma fantasy kept everyone on their toes as we were treated to the most transcendental display of piano playing that I have witnessed since Mark Viner played it for us in London.
They were even more impressive that Hamelin because both Costantino and Mark had a fearless sense of grandeur and a real sense of theatre.
Of the curtain opening and something magical about to happen.
It certainly was an extraordinary performance even the more so for the sonorities that he managed to obtain from this rather modest piano.
His great sense of balance and ear for sumptuous sound allied to a technical fearlessness, even in the most impossibly difficult alternating hands, really held us spell bound.
The combination of the two melodies together at the end were played in an almost hushed cantabile that was nothing short or a revelation.
As Schumann would have said “Hats off Gentlmen.A genius!”.

Teatro Torlonia
In reply to the ovation he received from a large enthusiastic audience he played just one more piece by Wolf-Ferrari .
Beautiful it was indeed and he tells me it is on his CD.
But I was quite satisfied to close the curtain after Norma as in the  greatest of Opera Houses.


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