Notes and Editorial Reviews
Spirited playing and fine recording - a feast of good music.
Rossini spent much of his career inventing – and re-inventing – some of the 19th century’s most effervescent operatic scores. It was only in his last years when, settled in Paris with his second wife Olympe, he turned his attention to the piano. Prolific as always he wrote plenty of music for the instrument, all of it collected in this three-volume series from Chandos.
It’s a rewarding project, especially when played and recorded with such distinction. The Italian pianist Marco Sollini, who won first prize in the ‘From Bach to Bartók’ competition at Imola in 1985, has had some formidable teachers, Gerhard Oppitz, Bruno Leonard Gelber and
Alexis Weissenberg among them. Thankfully he is one of those pianists who combines sparkling technique with spontaneity and wit.
These qualities are in abundance in Rossini’s piano pieces. The first set on the disc is from the fourth book of the thirteen-volume Péchés de vieillesse. It’s a gastronomic feast as well as a musical one. The four dried fruits of Quatre Mendiants – figs, almonds, raisins and hazelnuts – are presented as affectionate tributes to Olympe and the family pets, Perruche the parrot and Nini the dog.
The sunny little flourishes that permeate the first movement – Rossini waking his wife with a plate of dried figs – are a pointer of what’s to come, although he adds some daring harmonies to spice things up a little. As a foil to the teasing but always affectionate breakfast treat Rossini presents the midnight almonds with a dash of real tenderness too.
Sollini phrases and colours the music very well indeed. It is the kind of repertoire that can so easily become bland but here each course is as delicious as the last. The skipping tunes of ‘Raisins’ – for the parrot – are presented with great clarity and rhythmic flair. And for ‘Chère Nini’ there’s the elegant music of ‘Hazelnuts’. The piano sound is rich and full, especially in the bass, with a suitably sparkling treble to match.
Although served second the four hors d'œuvres are no less mouth-watering, albeit for different reasons. As Sergio Ragni points out in his excellent liner-notes these dishes are plainer, more formal in their presentation. This is clearly the composer in a more concentrated, almost scholarly mood, ‘Anchovies’ and ‘Butter’ both marked ‘theme and variations’. That said this is not at all dry, with some lovely lyrical writing in the central section of ‘Radishes’, not to mention some pretty virtuosic moments as well.
Much of the time one hears echoes of operatic Rossini in this music, not only in the endless – and apparently effortless – flow of melodies but also in its taxing trills and embellishments. Even in the gruff harmonies of ‘Gherkins‘ – the piano sounding richer than ever – there is a legato style, a lovely singing line. Hats off to the Chandos team for making it all sound so atmospheric.
The miscellany from Péchés de vieillesse Book 10 is made up of six pieces. This is Rossini in more serious vein but the composer’s good humour is simply irrepressible, especially in the mock gravitas of ‘Prélude blagueur’. That said there is a more formal. exploratory element to this music and Rossini’s writing is very accomplished indeed. Sollini plays the bravura close to this movement in commanding style, modulating to something lighter in the mock gravitas of ‘Des tritons s'il vous plait’ and the infectious, skipping melodies of ‘Petite pensée’.
The last three pieces in this miscellany are prefect miniatures, each with their own distinctive refrains and character. They are over almost as soon as they begin but they are all gems. ‘Petit caprice’, a high-kicking homage to Offenbach, is the perfect end to this delectable disc. Normally these collections are too much for one sitting but this is an exception.
There are two other volumes in the series and if this instalment is anything to go by they are certainly worth investigating. It’s good to hear non-operatic Rossini, if only to be reminded he was no slouch at the keyboard either. Couple that with spirited playing and a fine recording and you have a feast of good music.
-- Dan Morgan, MusicWeb International
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