Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Sonata No. 2
Variations on a Theme of Corelli. Vocalise.
Emanuela Friscioni (pn)
CENTAUR CRC 3062 (75:15)
Italian pianist Antonio Pompa-Baldi won prizes at the 1991 Long/Thibaud competition (first prize) and the 2001 Cliburn
(tied for Silver), among others, before joining the faculty of the Cleveland Institute of Music, where he’s currently a distinguished professor of piano. His Centaur recordings of Grieg (the complete solo piano music) and Rheinberger haven’t been reviewed in
, but they’ve gotten high praise elsewhere—something that won’t surprise anyone who listens to this impressive new Rachmaninoff recital. As his contest pedigree would suggest, his technique is strong (although like so many other pianists, he has trouble avoiding cluttered textures in the last movement of the sonata). But he is no mere competition showman, for he combines his virtuosity with a kaleidoscopic imagination.
Especially impressive is his romantic sense of color and tone of voice; listen, for instance, to the change in light when we get to the second theme in the sonata’s first movement. Thus, while it’s possible to treat the
as a modernist work, Pompa-Baldi chooses instead to play down its monolithic structure in favor of its mercurial shifts in tone and mood and to play down its potential for astringency in favor of a backward-looking luxuriousness that heightens its harmonic luminosity. His own transcription of the
—not an elaboration like, for instance, Wild’s, but rather a straightforward attempt to play the piece as written, with the vocal line and the piano part combined under 10 (sometimes severely stretched) fingers—is gorgeously spun out, too. And his performance, with his wife, of the early duets (which, in his refreshingly honest notes, the pianist calls “less inspired” than most of Rachmaninoff’s other works) has plenty of spirit; I especially enjoyed the debonair and slightly cheeky account of the Waltz.
If anything in this recital is liable to put you off, it will probably be Pompa-Baldi’s rhythmic freedom. Tempos can be slow, and rubato can sometimes seem excessive; listen, for instance, to the way he stretches the ends of measures (from this performance, you might be forgiven for thinking that the second movement of the sonata moves into 5/4, rather than 4/4, at measure 16). Still, even for those who like more stability, there’s enough character and creativity in this recital to compensate. The sound, if not quite state-of-the-art, is extremely good, too. Warmly recommended.
FANFARE: Peter J. Rabinowitz
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