In brief: 20th-century Italian Chamber Music, Hong Kong, 3 December 2019

Angela Meluso and Mauro Tortorelli Angela Meluso and Mauro Tortorelli

Prima la musica” (“The music comes first”) once said opera composer Antonio Salieri (at least in the title to one of his operas). Perhaps as a consequence, opera has provided, once the words are dispensed with, other composers with marvelous opportunities for transcriptions and adaptions. Liszt’s are of course some of the best-known, but opera remains a rich vein for contemporary performers and composers such as Italian pianist Roberto Corlianò, who has toured the region more than once with his own “paraphrases”.

So finishing up the formal part of their recital with a quicksilver piano and violin rendition of “Largo al factotum” (the “Figaro” aria from Gioachino Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia) was a good choice for visiting Italian musicians Angela Meluso and Mauro Tortorelli. This particular one was by mid-20th-century Italian composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco.

The self-styled Gran Duo Italiano were in Hong Kong as part of the Italian Cultural Institute’s year-long programme of events. The recital was billed as “rediscovery” of 20th-century Italian music, works award-winning pianist Meluso and violinist Tortelli consider “unfairly forgotten”. If their able performance is any evidence, they have a point. A Scherzo napoletano by Gaetano Fusella was a perky work which quoted tunes likely to be familiar to audiences even in East Asia. The two relatively-early-in-the-century sonatas by Rosario Scalero and Francesco Santoliquido sounded both new and accessible. The one woman composer, Emilia Gubitosi, was represented by a brief Allegro appassionato.

The concert ended with an encore of a delightful piano and violin transcription of a familiar traditional Chinese song. Should Meluso and Tortelli return to this part of the world, they might well consider an entire concert of these.

Peter Gordon is editor of the Asian Review of Books.