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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


Sigismond THALBERG (1812-1871)
Fantasies on operas by Bellini

Grand Fantasy on themes from Norma. Op. 12 [15.46]
Grand fantasy and variations on themes from I Capuletti, Op. 10 [17.11]
Fantasy on themes from Beatrice di Tenda, Op. 49 [13.02]
Fantasy on themes from La Straniera, Op. 9 [12.42]
Grand Caprice on themes from La Sonnambula, Op.46 [16.18]
Francesco Nicolosi (Piano)
Recorded in the Concert Hall of the Slovak Philharmonic, Bratislava. May-June 1990
First released on Marco Polo 8.223355 in 1991
NAXOS 8.555498 [74.59]



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Thalberg was one of a select group that included Liszt who travelled widely, thrilling fashionable audiences with their pianistic brilliance. Virtuoso pianists frequently brought their own arrangements or free adaptations of popular operas and instrumental works to the salons and concert halls of nineteenth-century Europe and America in performances that were primarily a means of demonstrating the dazzling keyboard technique of the soloist. The ‘grand fantasia’ allowed the player to embellish and improvise in order to demonstrate his extraordinary powers and, while the results may bear only a passing resemblance to the original, they remain interesting examples of 19th century bravura.

Nowadays we tend to be more critical about such blatant showing off, and it must also be admitted that, shorn of their context, the Bellini tunes sound somewhat upstaged. Nevertheless, this performance demonstrates not only the pianist’s impressive disdain for technical difficulties, but also a sensitive understanding of what is required in addition to keyboard dexterity. That said, it cannot be denied that a CD even one so well made as this one can hardly reproduce the impact that these works probably had in their day.

Played end-to-end (as, one may be sure, was never intended) the four Fantasias and Grand Caprice sound rather long-winded: trite little tunes interspersed with long, extremely difficult études. No doubt pianists will be impressed (as they should be) by the extraordinary stamina and aplomb with which Nicolosi polishes off these intimidating monsters. No doubt, also, Thalberg, like Liszt, was a worthy representative of a historically important genre – the Great Big Very Difficult Piano Piece; but honestly, apart from my favourite La Sonnambula, this is not a disc I will often be playing in its entirety.

Roy Brewer



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