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During the late 20th century, with its focus on historical instruments and playing styles as well as the avant-garde, music by Pietro Yon (1886- 1943) was out of fashion. Now, with a more balanced perspective, such music can be considered afresh in its historical context. Elisa Teglia must be congratulated on this fine recording of Yon’s organ works on four Italian instruments built in the early- to mid-20th century.

Known today for his Humoresque ‘l’organo primitivo’, the Italian Pietro Yon studied in Rome, but emigrated to New York at the age of 21. His brilliant career as recitalist and composer resulted in his becoming organist of St Patrick’s Cathedral in 1929. Nevertheless, he remained strongly attached to his native Italy, as his Pastorale Sorrentina, Natale a Settimo Vittone, Christmas in Sicily, Gesù Bambino and Rapsodia italiana attest, undoubtedly endearing him to Italian immigrants. In his liturgical music, Gregorian chants and folk themes such as Rorate Caeli, Veni Emmanuel, Ave Maria and Creator alme siderum were the basis for Yon’s Suite d’Avvento, but although his Concerto Gregoriano was based on newly-invented themes, the modal harmonic language reflected medieval styles.

Part of Yon’s popularity was based on courting the public through pieces such as American Rhapsody, based on ‘My Maryland’, ‘Deep River’, ‘Hail Columbia’ and the American national anthem, demonstrating appropriate bombast and technical virtuosity. However, all is done with honesty and integrity, not caricature. His harmonic language was thoroughly tonal, with no influence of the contemporaneous modernism of Schoenberg, Stravinsky and Bartók. Only the Sonata Cromatica (1917) explores a chromatic language that marked a new direction. However, it may be significant that most of Yon’s compositions were written during both the first and second world wars, which perhaps goes some way to explain the populist styles he espoused.

DAVID PONSFORD Read the full review on Agora Classica

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