Long-Delayed UK Premiere of Wolf-Ferrari’s Violin Concerto

...The Wolf-Ferrari Violin Concerto concluded part I of the concert, receiving its UK premiere. Rustioni’s wife, the violinist Francesca Dego, entered resplendent in a floor-length gown in silvery sable black. She and Rustioni had already, during the pre-concert talk, provided useful context about the concerto as a work of infatuation, written three years before the composer’s death. Here, rather as Othmar Schoek (1886-1957) had done for Stefi Geyer (1888-1956), was a violin concerto by a composer suffering the torments of unrequited love. His amour in aspiration was Guila Bustabo, now a cult figure and dedicatee “con ammirazione”. This extended work has some stylistic parallels with the songster Schoeck, as does the fact that Schoeck’s much older work (1911-1912) can be heard in a recording. A difficult to find recording exists of Bustabo in a Kempe-conducted 1971 performance of the Wolf-Ferrari. Wolf-Ferrari’s language is one of almost constantly passion-imbued florid cantabile. The composer, who stands between the poles of German and Italian parentage, leans towards the Italian side. There are some bluff tarantella moments in the finale. It matters not a whit now that this half-hour-plus concerto looks backwards to the nineteenth century. In three movements, its nostalgic bel canto will
appeal to anyone who loves the violin concertos by Tchaikovsky, Glazunov or Korngold. The invention may not be quite as vital or memorable, and Rustioni had already remarked on the work’s rhapsodic diffuse approach to musical structure, but it is a winning listen. The first movement opens in a whisper —rather like the Sibelius—to which Dego’s violin soon engaged. She is in almost constant action throughout, with unsullied soaring ardour and meticulous yet feathery delicacy. There are some banal moments towards the end of Wolf-Ferrari’s score but they are fleeting. The solo cadenza writing in the Rondo finale appears in two episodes. The performance of the Concerto was recorded by Deutsche Grammophon and looks set to appear in Autumn 2017 in harness with a Paganini concerto. No doubt the occasional cough will be patched out from rehearsals. If you are interested in Wolf-Ferrari, there is a website but unlike Othmar Schoeck, who basks in Chris Walton’s magisterial study, there is no English language biography. Generously, Dego rewarded the audience’s applause with one of Paganini’s stunning Caprices: coruscation, gasps and delight in equal measure. I do hope that she will now look at the violin concertos by Pizzetti, Malipiero and Casella...
Seen and Heard international, 12 March 2017
By Rob Barnett

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