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Niccolò CASTIGLIONI (1932-1996)
Piano Music

Cangianti (1959) [10.56]
Tre Pezzi (1978) [18.01]
Come io passo l’estate (1983) [9.27]
Dulce Refrigerium (1984) [9.08]
Sonatina (1984) [7.19]
HE (1990) [4.04]
Sarah Nicholls (piano)
Recorded in Vestry Hall, West London, June and July 2004
METIER MSV CD 92089 [59.50]

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It’s splendid to have a single disc devoted to the piano music of Castiglioni. We’ve seen that Thomas Adès has included Come io passo l’estate in his wide-ranging EMI New CD 557051-2 (which also includes Nancarrow, Kurtág, Busoni and Grieg, amongst others) but such discs as Sarah Nicholls has now compiled are very much a rarity.

Cangianti is a tightly-argued, compact eleven-minute work written in 1959. It is composed of sub-clauses of tremendous colour and complexity, full of flurries in the middle register and some fortissimo outbursts. Decisive treble and bass oppositional motifs join with considerable command of dynamic variations to produce a work of real distinction. Tre Pezzi (1978) is curious. In his erudite sleeve-note Michael Finnissy wonders whether they represent a "parodistic exorcism" citing Messiaen, Webern and the Second Viennese School generally. The first (marked "Sweet") certainly has a flurry of birdsong and occupies an insistent, staccato-laced sound-world. And the third is kinetic and leapingly fractious.

Come io passo l’estate followed five years after the Three Pieces and stands at a distinct remove from it. Simpler and more clearly descriptive it consists of ten "diary" entries describing a trip in the Italian Alps. There are just hints of Ragtime in the first, jaunty and rhythmically incisive, and some moments of neo-classicism as well. La Valle del Clamin takes us to some vertiginous heights with rather abrupt, then more vigorous, trills. The most amusing of the postcards, the eighth, illustrates the slow snoring of Antonio Ballista (the work’s first performer) asleep in the cells of a police station. The sleepy chords are wickedly evocative. These pictures are compressed into a very small canvas and make their mark with pictorial directness, like a Picasso cartoon in the case of the Fantasma del Castello I Presule – all forty seconds of it.

Dulce Refrigerium is a six-movement suite that pays obeisance to nineteenth century procedures in a highly sophisticated way. There’s a salute to Beethoven’s Les Adieux sonata as well as a remarkable seventeen-second sliver of a Chorale to end the brief suite. The Sonatina fuses some of these ideas – a kind of lineage surveyed and transformed – with a swinging Ländler second movement.

The recorded sound is commendably clear yet warm and Nicholls explores these diverse works with a surety and finesse that are admirable – and truly winning

Jonathan Woolf


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