Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Music, Vol. 7:
Péchés de Viellesse
Stefan Irmer (pn)
MDG 618 1426 (79:34)
Rossini was as taken with the tonal subtleties of scale mutations as Charles Dodgson was with elementary paradoxes. When the paradoxes were supplied outside the framework of the
novels and similar if shorter works, they amused no one but Dodgson; while Rossini’s harmonic studies, shorn of their use to other ends,
became dry and repetitive. Consider
Encore un peu de blague, Montée-Descente
, a seven-note chromatic phrase that simply ascends and descends 12 times; or the
Première montée et descente
, an ascending and descending harmonized whole tone scale. There are seven pieces like this, ranging from half a minute to five minutes and a half, gathered from different books of the composer’s
Sins of Old Age
, and played on this new release.
I respect Stefan Irmer’s knowledge and talent, but I find myself in complete disagreement when he tries linking these exercises to Erik Satie’s
, with its indication “to be played 840 times.” Rossini, the ultimate
, would never have deliberately sought to bore an audience. More likely he was amusing composer friends (or perhaps just himself) with the tools of his craft, working out musical conundrums of the day in much the same fashion as Darius Milhaud—who wrote two string quartets that could be performed separately or at the same time. I can’t fault Irmer for wanting to record everything Rossini wrote for piano, but I wish he’d rationed these, the dullest things in the books when viewed out of context, to one per disc.
The rest of the material is of greater value. Especially interesting are the four longer pieces, three of which were intended to represent and/or satirize different musical periods:
Spécimen de l’ancien régime, Spécimen de mon temps
Spécimen de l’avenir
. The last in particular is great fun. Rossini never directly quotes other composers to mock them; that was not his way. But Liszt and Wagner are the clear targets in the work’s fitful but elaborate shifts of harmony, extremes of volume, and wonderfully pompous and vapid march.
Rossini’s dedication of one of these collections “to fourth-class pianists, to which I have the honor to belong” conceals the difficulty of this music. It appears easy to execute on its surface, but requires clean articulation, a light, varied touch, great evenness of figuration, and a sense of fun. Irmer possesses these qualities, along with an excellent technique. He is never heavy-handed, as is Marco Sollini in his Chandos series, nor does he confuse energy with speed, as Paolo Giacometti sometimes does in his otherwise fine series on Channel Classics. I would suggest making the acquaintance of some of the earlier releases first, such as Volume 4 (MDG 618 1386). But if you already have Irmer’s earlier Rossini discs, you’ll definitely want this one, as well—especially once you factor in good sound, and a generous CD length.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Works on This Recording
Péchés de vieillesse: Excerpt(s) by Gioachino Rossini
Stefan Irmer (Piano)
Written: 1857-1868; Italy
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