Rossini spent much of his career inventing – and re-inventing
– some of the 19th century’s most effervescent operatic
scores. It was only in his last years when, settled in Paris with
his second wife Olympe, he turned his attention to the piano.
Prolific as always he wrote plenty of music for the instrument,
all of it collected in this three-volume series from Chandos.
It’s a rewarding
project, especially when played and recorded with such distinction.
The Italian pianist Marco Sollini, who won first prize in the
‘From Bach to Bartók’ competition at Imola in 1985, has had
some formidable teachers, Gerhard Oppitz, Bruno Leonard Gelber
and Alexis Weissenberg among them. Thankfully he is one of those
pianists who combines sparkling technique with spontaneity and
are in abundance in Rossini’s piano pieces. The first set on
the disc is from the fourth book of the thirteen-volume Péchés
de vieillesse. It’s a gastronomic feast as well as a musical
one. The four dried fruits of Quatre Mendiants
– figs, almonds, raisins and hazelnuts – are presented as affectionate
tributes to Olympe and the family pets, Perruche the parrot
and Nini the dog.
The sunny little
flourishes that permeate the first movement – Rossini waking
his wife with a plate of dried figs – are a pointer of what’s
to come, although he adds some daring harmonies to spice things
up a little. As a foil to the teasing but always affectionate
breakfast treat Rossini presents the midnight almonds with a
dash of real tenderness too.
and colours the music very well indeed. It is the kind of repertoire
that can so easily become bland but here each course is as delicious
as the last. The skipping tunes of ‘Raisins’ – for the parrot
– are presented with great clarity and rhythmic flair. And for
‘Chère Nini’ there’s the elegant music of ‘Hazelnuts’. The piano
sound is rich and full, especially in the bass, with a suitably
sparkling treble to match.
second the four hors d'œuvres are no less mouth-watering, albeit
for different reasons. As Sergio Ragni points out in his excellent
liner-notes these dishes are plainer, more formal in their presentation.
This is clearly the composer in a more concentrated, almost
scholarly mood, ‘Anchovies’ and ‘Butter’ both marked ‘theme
and variations’. That said this is not at all dry, with some
lovely lyrical writing in the central section of ‘Radishes’,
not to mention some pretty virtuosic moments as well.
Much of the time
one hears echoes of operatic Rossini in this music, not only
in the endless – and apparently effortless – flow of melodies
but also in its taxing trills and embellishments. Even in the
gruff harmonies of ‘Gherkins‘ – the piano sounding richer than
ever – there is a legato style, a lovely singing line. Hats
off to the Chandos team for making it all sound so atmospheric.
The miscellany from
Péchés de vieillesse Book 10 is made up of six pieces.
This is Rossini in more serious vein but the composer’s good
humour is simply irrepressible, especially in the mock gravitas
of ‘Prélude blagueur’. That said there is a more formal. exploratory
element to this music and Rossini’s writing is very accomplished
indeed. Sollini plays the bravura close to this movement in
commanding style, modulating to something lighter in the mock
gravitas of ‘Des tritons s'il vous plait’ and the infectious,
skipping melodies of ‘Petite pensée’.
The last three pieces
in this miscellany are prefect miniatures, each with their own
distinctive refrains and character. They are over almost as
soon as they begin but they are all gems. ‘Petit caprice’, a
high-kicking homage to Offenbach, is the perfect end to this
delectable disc. Normally these collections are too much for
one sitting but this is an exception.
There are two other
volumes in the series and if this instalment is anything to
go by they are certainly worth investigating. It’s good to hear
non-operatic Rossini, if only to be reminded he was no slouch
at the keyboard either. Couple that with spirited playing and
a fine recording and you have a feast of good music.