Nino Rota was born in Milan in 1911. He wrote 150 ‘serious works’ and as many film soundtracks but is best known for his scores to The Godfather and Fellini’s La Strada and La Dolce Vita. There are interesting parallels with Erich Wolfgang Korngold: Both were child prodigies, Korngold premiering an opera at 12, Rota conducting his oratorio The Childhood of John the Baptist at 11, and both had the unthinkable temerity to be successful film composers. Snobbery and prejudice run as deep in the classical music world as anywhere, so it is heartening that following the rehabilitation of Korngold, (no more of the “more corn than gold”), Rota is finally being recognised as a worthwhile composer, especially after the advocacy of conductors of the calibre of Riccardo Chailly and Riccardo Muti.

Nino Rota

Rota’s oeuvre runs the gamut of symphonic, operatic, choral and chamber music and his significant body of non-film music stands up to scrutiny very well on its own. Orthodox it may be, but it is also sophisticated, inventive and not infrequently profound. It also often radiates a breezy take-you- with-it quality. While There may be little sense of stylistic development, Rota more than compensates with a lyrical fecundity that few of his contemporaries could match.

As a composer, he was highly inventive and mastered all the “schools” of 20th-century music, from neo-romanticism to postmodernism – particularly the trends that infected Italian composers. One such work is the wonderful Trio for Flute, Violin, and Piano (1958), a playful piece in which Rota conjures a 20th-century ‘edge’ as well as passages of profound beauty, rather like Poulenc, where there’s often a shard of glass in the champagne flute, sometimes cheeky and mercurial but always skirting the trivial and the banal.
Rota composed the Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano six years before his death in 1979. This throws up another quality: the rhapsodic swell of the central movement contrasted with nervy angular mood of the first.

The cornerstone of the album is Rota’s Nonetto, where he joins a select group of composers of nonets (for varying instrumental combinations) a commission received in 1957 from the Czech Nonet. The Nonetto, including revisions, was 20 years in the making, becoming what was described as an “an endless work in progress.” It is scored for winds and strings, namely flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, viola, cello and double bass. This five movement work is by far the longest on the album. It instantly won me over with its Stravinskian first movement and tender second, making me wonder why more composers don’t write for this combination of instruments.

This CD was a joy: the ensemble seems to have this music in their bloodstream. It also comprises three members of the Berlin Philharmonic.

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Composer: Nino Rota
Works: Chamber music
Performers: Eric Le Sage, Emmanuel Pahud et al.
Label: Alpha ALPHA746