> THALBERG Piano Music [NH]: Classical CD Reviews- Jun2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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  Founder: Len Mullenger

Sigismond THALBERG (1812 - 1871)
Piano music

Fantasias on Operas by Rossini:-
Fantasia on Semiramide, Op. 51
Fantasia on La donna del lago, Op. 40 bis
Fantasia on Il barbiere di Siviglia, Op. 63
Fantasia on Moïse, Op. 33
Francesco Nicolosi, piano
Recorded Festetitch Castle, Budapest, March 1992.
NAXOS 8.555501 [69:53]


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I was not previously familiar, at all, with the work of Thalberg or, for that matter, to a great extent, with the Rossini works on which these piano fantasias are based. My knowledge of Rossini is largely confined to the overtures and has been refreshed more recently, though indirectly, via ASV's recordings of "tribute" pieces by English composers (Gordon Jacob's The Barber of Seville Goes to the Devil and Eric Fenby's Rossini on Ilkla' Moor!). This disc is a reissue of one originally available on Marco Polo (8.223366) and several of Naxos's recent issues with similar provenance have made for captivating listening (the discs of Malipiero, rare Janáček and, above all, Martinů's The Epic of Gilgamesh are, to my mind, essential purchases). Therefore, my first hearing of this CD was one made in no little hope, despite the idiom (piano virtuoso, Liszt contemporary/rival) not being one of my main musical interests, although my immediately preceding listening (another Naxos new release - Japanese Orchestral Favourites!) was not perhaps the ideal preparation.

Surprisingly, the music is often reflective, lyrical and quite relaxing, rather than the pianistic tour de force I had steeled myself for. The fantasias on Il barbiere di Siviglia and Moïse are a little more energised than those based on Semiramide and La donna del lago, but I actually preferred the latter pieces for their greater (to my ears at least) inherent melodic inspiration. The Gramophone review of the original release, despite being positive overall, described the disc as likely to appeal only to "a specialised ultra-nineteenth-century taste", something I would tend to disagree with. In fact, at times, in the quieter moments, it almost seemed like there was one of jazz pianist Keith Jarrett's extended improvisations on the CD player (meant as a compliment). So, although the music was a pleasant, if generally less than spine tingling, experience for this listener, I suspect that there are plenty of others (for example, aficionados of Liszt's piano music and, in particular, his transcriptions) who would find it, at the very least, interesting and maybe even quite a revelation. The quality of the playing of Francesco Nicolosi, and also the recording, leave very little to be desired but the booklet notes, despite having plenty of information on Thalberg himself, unfortunately concentrate on the plots and histories of the Rossini operas rather than give any details about these fantasias drawn from them.

Neil Horner


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