Giuseppe Martucci (1856-1909)
Cello Sonata in F-sharp minor (1880)
Due Romanza, Op. 72 (1891)
Tre Pezzi, Op. 69 (1888)
Romanza (transc. by Martucci from Melodia, Op. 71)
Roberto Trainini, cello
Massimiliano Ferrati, piano
(2014) – TT 70:37
In a nutshell:
• If you love Schumann and Brahms in a sunny disposition, or the late 19th-century cello literature in particular, this may be of interest.
• I might be temperamentally at odds with this kind of lightweight and unobtrusive chamber music, but I’ve heard and love Martucci’s Piano Trio No. 1 and Piano Quintet, each brooding, powerful, and brawny with sublime inspiration and thick textures. Nothing like that here.
• Cello Sonata in F-sharp minor (1880) is poised, lyrical, and not particularly memorable or dramatic.
• Romances (1891) are conventional and in the spirit of Schumann’s op. 94, but seem like pale imitations without melody or passion.
• Tre Pezzi (1888) are stronger and exude solemnity and expressive depth, sometimes reminiscent of late Liszt.
• You can now hear three recordings of Martucci’s chamber music on Brilliant Classics. I suggest going with his piano trios and piano quintet or his solo piano music. If you have a hankering for good cello music from a lesser-known Italian composer, listen to the harder-edged cello sonatas by Alfredo Casella, also released on Brilliant.
When opera dominated Italy in the 19th century, composers with an inclination for instrumental music had a choice: emigration or pedagogy. Like his colleague Sgambati, Giuseppe Martucci (1856-1909) chose the latter and taught a generation of Italian composers with the ancillary goal of reviving instrumental music in his native country. Earlier in his life, he toured Europe and became acquainted with Liszt and Anton Rubinstein among others, thereby developing an affinity for German Romanticism. As a composer, he gravitated to the styles of Schumann and Brahms and wrote primarily for piano, although his output includes symphonies that won favor with Toscanini. For me, Martucci’s Piano Trio No. 1 and Piano Quintet are masterpieces, while the cello sonata and other pieces here lack force.
I’m bewildered that Martucci’s works for cello and piano have been recorded together many times by various labels, while the piano quintet, which is deemed his most important effort according to Cobbett’s Cyclopedia, is barely represented. When I see the key of F-sharp minor, I expect the composer means business and has something to say, but the Cello Sonata (1880) is gentle, leisurely, and without appealing melodic content. The large-scale 13-minute first movement has a few memorable phrases, but the rest is demure. Where’s the drama or sober beauty? No answer. Apart from the conventional scherzo and intermezzo, there are strong characteristics in the finale, which has verve and adroit piano writing.
The Romances (1891) are attractive enough, but lack the urgency and passion that so many other composers can impart. They share a kinship with Schumann’s op. 94 romances, but again, exhibit an absence of melodic invention or any dramatic bite. Only in the Tre Pezzi (1888) does Martucci reveal the best of his compositional powers. Each pezzo is roughly 9 minutes in length and has a solemn character, somewhat redolent of late Liszt. Nothing profound here, but they’re more attention-grabbing than the surrounding pieces. Performances are fine, although I haven’t heard other interpretations. Roberto Trainini (cello) has a warm tone and aptitude for lyricism.
Martucci – Works & Recordings