Notes and Editorial Reviews
The pianist Pietro Scarpini (1911-1997) is not generally known outside of his native Italy, yet has a devoted following in some circles. Although he only made one solo commercial recording (an early 1950s release containing works by Bartók and Stravinsky), he methodically preserved tapes of his broadcast, concert, and private home concerts. Arbiter issued a fascinating all-Beethoven Scarpini CD many years back, while certain broadcasts have floated around the proverbial “underground”, such as this 1966 live studio recording of Busoni’s mammoth Piano Concerto with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra under its long-time music director Rafael Kubelik.
The 70-minute work’s five movements are not easy to bring off, in
that they alternate between being vague, inspired, concise, sprawling, browbeating, and tender. However, Scarpini and Kubelik turn in an extraordinary performance full of passionate conviction and vivid detail, helped by well-balanced stereo engineering. In the first movement, Scarpini fervently throws himself into his big opening solo, and is not afraid to sublimate his long chains of scales when the throbbing strings carry the themes. While the second movement’s basic dactylic motto rhythm moves at a heavier gait than in, say, the Hamelin, Donohoe, and Ohlsson recordings, its gruffer, grittier aura imparts extra spice to Busoni’s idiosyncratic harmonic invention.
The long central Pezzo serioso stands out for Kubelik’s brooding yet taut orchestral framework, and for how Scarpini’s lyrical eloquence and boundless coloristic resources never spill over into sentimentality or bombast. The Tarantella may not be a whirling dervish of a Vivace, yet again, the slower tempo allows the beautifully aligned rapid exchanges between orchestral strands to bloom. Even those roof-tearing central climaxes (abetted by the brawniest brass section since Maynard Ferguson’s heyday) retain textural clarity, in contrast to the more diffuse orchestral image in recent recordings (sound samples). Listen, too, for the sense of bottom, tonal heft and vibrancy that the orchestra conveys in the Finale’s opening pages, plus the comparably sonorous and ideally balanced men’s chorus. In short, an historic release that lives up to its legend and more.
– ClassicsToday (Jed Distler) Read less
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