> Rossini Piano works Vol 3 Arolsen [OW]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

One of the most grown-up review sites around

54,928 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here



International mailing

Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             

Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Piano Works Vol.3
Pêches de Vieillesse (Selection)
Stefan Irmer, piano
Recorded August 23-25, 2001, Furstliche Reitban Bad Arolsen


Crotchet   AmazonUK   AmazonUS


In 1855 Rossini moved to Paris, an act that enabled him to recover from twenty years of physical illness and mental exhaustion. As his health recovered, his sense of humour improved and he began to compose once again. The result was not a series of operas to match those earlier in his career, but much vocal and piano music. Of over 150 piano pieces, many of the shortest were performed at Rossini’s ‘Samedi soirs’, informal concerts involving many of the great artists and public figures living in or passing through Paris at that time.

The music on this enterprising release (volume three of what one assumes will become a complete survey of Rossini’s output for piano, the first of its kind) comes from books four to six of ‘Pêches de Vieillesse’ (‘Sins of old age’). Rossini’s subtitle ‘A little bit of everything. A collection of 56 semi-comic pieces for piano’ is a good indicator of what to expect; ironic parodies of contemporary music and tributes to composers of an earlier age. The pieces contain wit, grace and charm, sharp parody and a measure of sentiment. As such they can be seen as an influence on Saint-Saëns, Satie and particularly Poulenc (whose ‘Les Soirées de Nazelles’ similarly originates from informal gatherings).

Irmer opens this recital with ‘Un Sauté’. Despite the culinary orientation of its title, this charming waltz falls most obviously into the category of ‘tribute’, recalling Schubert; a waltz with a hint of the barracks via the March Militaire. The unexpected modulations also have a Schubertian feel and the whole number is dispatched with a knowing simplicity that makes an irresistible start to the disc. The following item sees Rossini poking fun at himself. ‘Un Rêve’ is not the kind of dream one would expect of impressionists such as Debussy. Instead Rossini appears to be dreaming up an entire operatic overture; and the model is, without a doubt, his own Guillaume Tell. A lyrical opening subject leads to a cascading storm, followed by a further lyrical episode and, to conclude, a gallop of the type heard in the famous overture. The whole thing is wildly excessive, the storm elements having the granite-hewn splendour of Beethoven. Irmer makes the most of the dynamic and expressive contrasts and his opening is magical in its timing and colouration.

Anyone listening to this disc will probably have made their mind up at this point about whether or not Rossini’s piano music warrants much attention. I for one was convinced and further exploration revealed much to enjoy, served handsomely by Irmer’s enchanting performances. He has the full measure of Rossini’s often demanding writing (the composer, who premiered most of these works himself, described himself as ‘a pianist of the fourth class’, an example of false modesty if ever there was one) and brings each vignette to life with sparkle, wit and the kind of carefree joviality that would surely have made the composer smile.

Further highlights are in such abundance that in-depth discussion is impossible (and would to some extent ruin the wonderful voyage of discovery that is to be had from this music). Suffice it to say that Rossini’s apparent reverence for J.S. Bach is revealed in the ‘Prélude prétentieux’. The variously modulating introduction leads to a fugal subject and development that embrace one contrapuntal cliché after another.

While it may seem that to appreciate this music fully one has to understand the wealth of cross references and parodies present throughout the disc, this is certainly not the case. For example, the Etude Asthmatique: a short semiquaver motif is heard ad infinitum until it appears to run out of breath. However, even if the piece were merely title ‘Etude’ it would still exhibit the appealing freshness of Rossini’s melodic and harmonic style. Of course, if the underlying meaning of each piece is important to the listener, the excellent booklet notes are highly useful.

To sum up? This disc is an hour’s worth of sheer, unexpected delight, performed with great panache, commitment and technical authority by Irmer. While one may baulk at paying full-price for such obscure repertoire (the kind that Naxos are wont to record) it is worth every penny and, in terms of performance, is unlikely to be equalled. As mentioned, MDG provide an informative booklet note (by Irmer himself) and the disc’s presentation is attractive - though what the rather sour looking Italian lady on the cover has to add to the proceedings is a matter for speculation. She surely hadn’t heard any Rossini when she consented to being painted.

Owen Walton


Return to Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.