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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto no.20 in D minor K.466 [31:23] *
Piano Concerto no.25 in C major K.503 [31:53]**
Dino Ciani (piano)
Orchestra Sinfonica di Torino della RAI/Piero Bellugi*, Orchestra "Alessandro Scarlatti" di Napoli della RAI/Sir John Barbirolli**
rec. 28 January 1972, Turin*, 25 January 1968, Naples**
ARTS ARCHIVES 43082-2 [64:29]


With his tragically early death before achieving his 33rd birthday, Dino Ciani joined Guido Cantelli as one of the great postwar talents lost to Italy. The consequent mythology has attempted to cast him as a sort of local Dinu Lipatti – "one whom the gods loved" and so on – though the phenomenon seems mainly confined to Italy itself. A quite extensive discography has been built up, largely from performances recorded by or for the RAI, including a complete Beethoven sonata cycle. Of the present two Mozart concertos, the C major has had considerable exposure on various labels, given the added allure of the conductor, and was already known to me through a RAI re-broadcast which I taped and later burnt onto CD. I can happily put this latter to rest. It was not bad for what it was but the Arts Archives remastering reveals the recording to be excellent for its date.

I found myself speaking up strongly for the much maligned Naples orchestra with regard to the Maag "Figaro" from the previous decade. By 1968 it was already in decline and let’s face it, neither was Sir John by that time quite the man to do much about it. There are numerous imprecisions, including one that almost strangles the slow movement at birth. But nevertheless, if you do not investigate too closely, the orchestral playing does have a humanity, majestic but not heavy, which will be recognized by those who know Barbirolli’s Pye recording of the Jupiter symphony.

Ciani also has a radiance of his own. He had, it seems to me, a small but very gentle tone. I get the idea he found it difficult to give more weight to his right hand, and in the forte passages the much stronger left hand tends to dominate. This could be a fault of the recording, but it is difficult to see why engineering which gives plenty of brilliance to the orchestra should do the opposite to the piano, and the sound is consistent with other Ciani recordings I have heard from different venues. Still, the match between soloist and conductor seems a good one. This can’t be a first choice but piano buffs wishing to hear a pianist who might perhaps have played a leading role in our musical lives will be glad to hear it.

Just how leading a role, however, is called into question by the D minor set down four years later. The Turin orchestra was fundamentally a better band but the whole symphony orchestra is apparently used and Bellugi appears happy to accept clotted textures without any attempt at refining the sound. The impression here is that Ciani had been attempting to increase his sound, but using a technique that led him to force the tone. The softer moments, particularly in the Romanze, have the same gentle luminosity as in the earlier performance, but much of the playing is dominated by a hard-hitting sound devoid of any legato. The opening of the finale is particularly unpleasant. Maybe it was recorded too close, though the balance with the orchestra sounds about right.

Ciani tended to approach Mozart with a certain old-world flexibility. With Barbirolli conducting this was fine. Bellugi seems to consider his task merely that of keeping things more or less together. At the start of the first movement development, for example, Ciani enters considerably below tempo and sounds wayward. A conductor who was really collaborating would have prepared this for him. Another Ciani performance of this concerto exists under Gavazzeni, but not a RAI production so perhaps it was not available to Arts Archives. Under the circumstances, maybe this enterprising company would have done better to follow the Barbirolli angle rather than the Ciani one. That same Naples concert began with Haydn 83, which Sir John recorded commercially, and concluded with Beethoven’s Second Symphony, which would be a Barbirolli rarity. The orchestra is a bit rough, but there’s plenty of character and enough of "Glorious John" comes through to make it worthwhile.

That said, the art of Dino Ciani does merit further investigation. The Brahms First Concerto would at least establish what sort of weight of tone he could produce, though again there is unremarkable support from the Turin orchestra under Fulvio Vernizzi. The collaboration with Vittorio Gui in Beethoven 3 was a notable one, though in the re-broadcast I heard the performance began at bar 5, so there may be a technical problem. The missing passage could be dubbed in without too much incongruity from a performance Gui conducted with the same orchestra – soloist Christoph Eschenbach – a year later, though I hope any such practice would be acknowledged. Another interesting collaboration was that with the young Riccardo Muti in Bartók 2.

Christopher Howell


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