Berlioz, Mendelssohn, Strauss
Hector Berlioz, Felix Mendelssohn, and Richard Strauss all traveled to Italy as young men (the first two at the same time, although not together), which inspired them to write italianate works, which the Mozarteum Orchestra and Riccardo Minasi presented at a Sunday matinee this morning.
Minasi animates the orchestra, particularly during the faster parts (when he takes particularly frenetic tempi). The slower movements dance, where there is lilt. Where there is meant to be broader color – painted landscapes, for example – he does not always complete the picture, although this orchestra has the talent to produce the full palette.
The former (frenetic style) was on display in the Overture to Berlioz’ opera Benvenuto Cellini, which came across a bit crazy, a warm-up for Mendelssohn’s Fourth Symphony (“Italian”), whose outer movements had a definite forward drive, and whose interior movements had a certain spring in the step but not necessarily the fullness of tone.
Richard Strauss’ under-performed youthful work Aus Italien, is a four-movement tone poem, and perhaps here in the first three movements may have been too north-of-the-Alps in structure (if not in inspiration) for Minasi. The first movement especially foreshadows the tonal lushness Strauss would later develop. The final movement, though closer to Minasi’s rambunctious style, is actually the weakest link: Strauss mistook Funiculì Funiculà as a Neapolitan folk song and used it as the basis for his final movement – its (then very much alive) composer, Luigi Denza, sued Strauss for plagiarism and apparently recovered quite a bit in royalties. Strauss should have quietly cut the final movement, which does not go with the first three anyway, but at least Minasi and the Mozarteum Orchestra had fun with it this morning.