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Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868) Piano Works Vol. 4
"Péchés de Vieillesse - Quelques Riens pour Album"

Un Rien No.1. Allegretto [2.21]
Un Rien No.2. Allegretto moderato [1.20]
Un Rien No.3. Allegretto moderato [3.05]
Un Rien No.4. Andante sostenuto - Allegretto [5.27]
Un Rien No.5. Allegretto moderato [3.28]
Un Rien No.6. Andante maestoso - Allegro brillante [4.16]
Un Rien No.7. Andantino mosso [1.20]
Un Rien No.8. Andantino sostenuto [2.37]
Un Rien No.9. Allegretto moderato [1.57]
Un Rien No.10. Andantino mosso [2.41]
Un Rien No.11. Andantino mosso - Allegretto moderato [4.03]
Un Rien No.12. Danse Siberienne. Allegretto moderato [2.22]
Un Rien No.13. Allegretto brillante [1.03]
Un Rien No.14. Allegro vivace [3.35]
Un Rien No.15. Petite Galette Allemande. Allegro brillante [2.43]
Un Rien No.16. Andantino - Allegretto brillante Douces Reminiscences offertes a mon ami Carafa pour le Nouvel An 1866. Oh fricaine!!! [3.02]
Un Rien No.17 . A piacere - Andantino mosso, quasi Allegretto [4.01]
Un Rien No.18. Andantino mosso - Allegro [5.08]
Un Rien No.19. Allegretto moderato [1.58]
Un Rien No.20. Allegro brillante [3.25]
Un Rien No.21. Andantino sostenuto [4.38]
Un Rien No.22. Thème et Variations sur le Mode Mineur. Andantino mosso [4.34]
Un Rien No.23. Thème et Variations sur le Mode Majeur. Allegretto moderato [5.46]
Un Rien No.24. Un Rien sur le Mode Enharmonique. Adagio Andantino mosso [2.51]
Stefan Irmer, piano.
Technician, Manfred Bürki
Recorded at Fürstliche Reitbahn, Bad Arolsen, Germany, 10 September 2003
Notes in English, Français, Deutsch. Photos of artist, engraving of composer.
MDG 618 1260-2 [78.30]
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Your first reaction might be ĎPiano music by Rossini? Surely just opera transcriptionsí? You couldnít be more wrong. Considering Rossiniís famous wit, one should be suspicious of anything called a "nothing" (although in this case, "trifle" might be a better translation). The work that is most likely to come to mind as you finish listening to this disk is the impromptus of Schubert ó another wry joke, extremely sophisticated compositions tossed off as "impromptu". And is that "...Oh fricane!!!" a pun on Ďafricaineí? Why not?

Of course the work that will have come to mind immediately upon your beginning to listen to the disk will be Respighiís Boutique Fantasque, for here is the raw material from which he fashioned that work, and also Benjamin Britten - his Soirées and Matinées Musicales. But donít expect this disk to be a piano version of these orchestral works ó these originals are a space removed. It is as though the orchestral works were re-composed for piano by Webern, for what we have is a sobering minimalism of expression. By comparison, the orchestral works, which heard by themselves seem transparent and economical, will, after one hears the original, sound fat and over-elaborated.

I hope I have intrigued you, but the enigmas of style are only reflective of many enigmas which surround these works. Much has been said of Rossiniís startling retirement from the opera stage at the height of his powers and popularity, but it seems that that is no mystery at all; severe illness cut him down and left him imprisoned in disability for twenty years. Fortunately he was by then more than financially secure, so his prison was a comfortable one. When at last he felt well enough to see people socially and compose again the fashion of the popular stage had so changed he could hardly recognise it. So, he struck out in a perpendicular direction with these "Sins of Old Age" searching to find an expression for the brilliant ideas in his mind. In the end, he left them as he found them, collections of fragments hinting at a great deal, but with an aura of being unfinished. It is no wonder that Respighi and Britten were inspired to carry them further.

One thing is very clear to me with no facts to base it on: the young Shostakovich knew these works very well, and they inspired him directly to compose his 24 Preludes and formed the basis for his piano composition style. After many years of reading critical ruminations on his works the aged Shostakovich, in his last Symphony, finally introduced us to two of his most notable and previously all but unacknowledged sources: Wagner and Rossini. How could anyone have missed something so obvious? The same way most critics donít hear William Tell in Lisztís Les Preludes, the same critics who donít see Pierrot Lunaire in the Act One finale to Italiana. Rossini stands nearer the source of our modern music than we realise and itís time we all became aware of that.

The piano is uncredited, but it doesnít sound like a modern instrument to me, more like an Erard, the authentic piano of the period. In which case the piano technician deserves great credit for bringing such fine sound out of an older instrument. The pianist, who specialises in out-of-the-way repertoire, does a superb job of capturing the irony, humour and volatility of mood in these pieces. I would like to hear him play Gottschalk. I also want to hear all the other entries in this series.

This disk is a must-have for anyone who seriously admires Rossini or Shostakovich or Respighi, or ... Satie!

Paul Shoemaker

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