Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Len Mullenger:

Collection: 20th Century Italian Piano Music

Valse; Canone; Notturno; Minuetto; Studio; Intermezzo.
Four pieces: Mazurka; Romanzetta; Fable; and Causerie. Nostalgie.
Ildebrando PIZZETTI
Sogno; Canti di Ricordanza Nos.1 - 4
Poemetto Romantico: Appassionato; Intermezzo; Triste

Riccardo Sandiford (piano)
BONGIOVANNI GB 5099-2 [69:06]

Think of Italian music and think of opera. But a small group of musicians sought to free themselves from the shackles of this exclusivity and turn to other musical forms. A group of musicians, born around the same time in the 1880s broke away from operatic conventions and explored other genres. They were: Franco Alfano, Ottorino Respighi, Ildebrando Pizzetti, Gian Francesco Malipiero (1882-1973) and Alfredo Casella (1883-1947). They carried on the pioneering work of Respighi's teacher Giuseppe Martucci (1856-1909). This CD includes piano music by three of the "Eighties Generation".

It is interesting to note that their music alternates between a longing for innovation and a conscious retrieval of the past.

The best-known of the three composers is Ottorino Respighi, composer of Fountains of Rome and Pines of Rome. His compositions for piano are small in number. The six pieces on this album are colourful and full of charm. The opening florid Valse caressante caresses the ear with its easy-going salon style that hides some complexity of texture. It is intimate, relaxed and dreamily nostalgic. Canone nicely balances romance with classical formality. The standout piece is Nottorno that has a haunting, almost hypnotic limpid beauty with its concentric ripples and gentle introspection. Technically, it demonstrates that Respighi was keeping abreast of the times because of its effects, its fleeting reflections, refracting harmonies, and transparent colours, rather like Debussy and Ravel were using during the same period. Equally memorable and enchanting, is the beautifully decorated Intermezzo an unashamedly romantic piece with a gorgeous melody of nostalgic yearning. Minuetto has grace and charm while Studio demands great agility and a clean touch to surmount its tricky 12/8 rhythm pattern.

Franco Alfano is remembered mostly for having completed Puccini's Turandot. His refined piano music shows influences of Debussy and Strauss. His Four Pieces were written when he was 24. His Mazurka is intimate and informal yet frolicsome and capricious too - one notices snatches of Scotch snap and polonaise as well as the rhythms of the mazurka - there is a distinct feeling of extemporisation. The Romanzetta is a delightful coyly romantic piece reminiscent of Schumann - so, too, is Fable but this faster-moving, more complex piece is altogether more proud and virile. With Causerie, Alfano moves away from dreamy romanticism and gives us a sophisticated, witty piece that seems to imitate the light babble of a chat. Nostalgie composed in 1918 is even more progressive - Alfano takes two well-known songs from his beloved Naples and breaks them up in chiaroscuro writing that also exploits a modal scale with Spanish colouring.

Pizzetti's Sogno was written when he was a student of 18. His subtitle for the work is "Lirica per pianoforte" and it alludes to his interest in opera and song. Its sentimental ballad-like sweetness is tempered by some robust heroic and tragic writing. Poemetto Romantico (1909) is imbued with feelings of nostalgia and a worrying awareness of change and crisis at the turn of the century. As the author of the erudite booklet notes, Francesco Ermini Polacci suggests, the work seems to be offering "a sort of sombre farewell to Romanticism" - most apparent in the beautiful meditative Triste. Appassionato is elegant, discreet, introspective, sometimes passionate. Intermezzo is lovely - calm and relaxed, almost hymn-like. Pizzetti's Canti di Ricordanza were written during the horrors of world War II. They bear the anxieties of the times with some dejected and chaotic military figures but there are also pages of peace and calm. Pizzetti often uses bell-like figures to banish his ghosts and draws on the stability of Gregorian chant in a desire for purity and spirituality.

Sandiford's polished playing and considerable style and finesse brings out the delicate beauty of these pieces as well as plumbing their emotional depths. For the adventurous this is a very rewarding collection which I recommend most heartily.

Ian Lace

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