Notes and Editorial Reviews
In the tradition of previous "complete edition" boxed sets devoted to pianists Yves Nat, Marcelle Meyer, and Georges Cziffra, EMI lavishes similar treatment upon Aldo Ciccolini's entire output for the label, weighing in at 56 discs. It's a considerable body of work, marked by the pianist's consistently high craft and solid musicianship as soloist, concerto player, chamber collaborator, and song accompanist (most memorably with Nicolai Gedda, Janine Michaeu, and Mady Mesplé).
To be sure, some items are more inspired than others, and the quality of the engineering widely varies from session to session. Still, EMI's latest transfers generally prove superior to previous CD editions, while quite a few recordings
appear for the first time on CD, including a previously unpublished Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.
Most classical music lovers, I wager, associate Ciccolini with his 1960s Erik Satie recordings that helped revive the maverick composer's reputation. I've always preferred their warmly-registered sonics to the relatively hollow, glassy sound of Ciccolini's 1980s digital Satie remakes, which are somewhat more scrupulous in regard to the composer's phrasings and dynamics.
Ciccolini also proved a loving and stylish advocate for the virtually unknown yet charming and thoroughly idiomatic keyboard output of Massenet and Severac. The appropriately dry élan he brought to Saint-Saëns' piano concertos or the first (and best) of his recordings of D'Indy's Symphony on a Mountain Air and Franck's Symphonic Variations contrasts to the fuller-bodied power of Ciccolini's Rachmaninov Second and Tchaikovsky First Concertos.
I love the sparkling edge of Ciccolini's Scarlatti, his unfettered, sometimes glib Mozart sonatas, and virtuosic joie de vivre in Chabrier and Rossini. And Ciccolini's virile, sometimes aggressive manner in Grieg's Lyric Pieces and the early Op. 7 Sonata evoke Grieg's playing of his own music.
Those expecting impressionistic haze and half tints in Debussy's complete piano works may not appreciate Ciccolini's broader brush strokes and blunter, neo-Prokofiev edges. While Ciccolini's Schubert is fustian and fussy, and his multi-layered Albéniz Iberia and Granados Goyescas are not so idiomatically accentuated as they could be, Liszt's music usually opens up Ciccolini's expressive and tonal reserves; try the earlier and better of his stereo Harmonies poétiques et religieuses, the rarely played Ballade No. 1, the stereo Années de Pèlerinage, or the broad, intense St. Francis Legends.
Other pleasant discoveries (at least for me) include Ciccolini's sympathetic partnership with cellist Paul Tortelier in the Chopin and Rachmaninov cello sonatas, and his direct, translucent Bach Inventions and Brahms' late piano pieces.
The booklet notes include an affectionate biographical essay by Olivier Bellamy, Ciccolini's own comments about the composers, and touching tributes from his younger colleagues Nicholas Angelich, Philppe Cassard, and Jean-Yves Thibaudet. If you've got the time and the inclination to explore Ciccolini's artistry far beyond Satie, this modestly-priced set (it averages out to less than two dollars per disc) surely will keep you busy and engaged.
--Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Work(s) by Various
Aldo Ciccolini (Piano)
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