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Album review: Nino Rota chamber music gets its due from talented Torontonians

By John Terauds on July 23, 2013

nino

My 2005 edition of the Dictionnaire de la musique does not have an entry for Nino Rota. The Norton-Grove Concise Encyclopedia of Music that sits beside it has one short paragraph for the Italian composer, born in Milan in 1911 and who died in Rome in 1979. Yes, he was a film composer, but there’s no mention of his winning an Oscar for the theme for The Godfather II.

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, Editor-Emeritus of Ludwig van Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at the University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds

Anyone with any doubts about the value of the Internet in helping art music can pause right here and thank the virtual world’s candle-lighters, who illuminate souls who would otherwise be consigned to the shadows of history.

We also need to thank musicians like Toronto pianist Mary Kenedi and her band of enthusiastic collaborators — violinist Lynn Kuo (the National Ballet Orchestra’s assistant concertmaster), cellist Winona Zelenka (cello with the Toronto Symphony), bassonist Michael Sweeney (the TSO’s principal bassoon) and clarinettist Goran Gojevic — for showcasing some excellent chamber music by Rota.

Most of Rota’s music is easily listened to, appreciated and, on occasion, even hummable long after it has stopped. His ability to evoke mood and atmosphere with just a few notes may have served him well in his fruitful collaborations with Fellini, Visconti, Zeffirelli — and Francis Ford Coppola, but it alienated him from the dissonance-embracing new-music crowd of the post-World War II years.

rotaAs Kenedi & co show on their album, recently released by Naxos, but recorded by Bonnie and Norbert Kraft at the Glenn Gould Studio nearly three years ago, there is a lot of fine compositional talent on display here, compellingly interpreted.

There are five pieces featured on this hour-long album: a Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano and a Toccata for Bassoon and Piano from the early 1970s and and Improviso for Violin and Piano and a Sonata for Clarinet and Piano from the mid-1940s.

Rota could be an honourary Italian addition to France’s Les Six, in his unwillingness to follow the tastes of his day. He believed in melody, loved humour, was unafraid to get sentimental, used the uneasy relationship between consonance and dissonance as brilliantly as Schubert or Shostakovich, and painted with light, not shadow.

The Italian is very kind to the clarinet, encouraging it to sing a silky song, especially in the slow movement of the Trio and Clarinet Sonata. The pairing of Zelenka and Gojevic is inspired.

Although this album is all about the fine ensemble writing and ensemble work, Kenedi and her piano are the glue that holds all of this music together. She is by turns fiery and reflective, playing with beguiling élan as well as elegance. She has a great opportunity to let the full breadth of her abilities show in a big, melodramatic Fantasia for solo piano.

Kenedi has also written a nice introductory essay on the composer and his music for the liner notes.

This album is a sleeper treat. Check out the details here.

You can find out much more about Rota’s music and life here.

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As a little bonus, here is Rota himself playing his 15 Preludes, which date from 1964, at a recital in Rome the following year:

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, Editor-Emeritus of Ludwig van Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at the University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds
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