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Luigi DALLAPICCOLA (1904-1975)
Sonata Canonica in Eb major on 'Capricci' by Niccolò Paganini (1943) [10.41]
Quaderno Musicale di Annalibera (1952) [15.08] Tre episodi dal balletto 'Marsia.' (1942/43) [12.34] Musica per tre pianoforte (1935) [12.36]
Goffredo PETRASSI (1904 - 2003)
Invenzioni (1944) [19.51] Oh, les beaux jours! (1976) [8.14] Toccata (1933) [7.07]
Siciliana (?) [1.49] Marcia (?) [1.20]
Lya De Barberiis, piano.
Rec. Rome, November 1976 (Sonata and Quaderno) and Genoa, January 1977 (Tre episodi and Musica); Rome, 28th April 1977 (Petrassi) WARNER FONIT 5050 467 1203 [58:59 + 39:30]

For some reason Luigi Dallapiccola is not that well known outside Italy. To be realistic, his is not the kind of music that instantly appeals to the average listener. I assume that he does not feature on Classic FM or similar stations on a regular basis. Perhaps one of the reasons is that he is noted for using the serial method of composition - and therefore, presumably must be as dry-as-dust. Yet this would be a misjudgement. Generally he never allowed the rigours of the tone row to get in the way of his musicality. Certainly in this present piano music, Dallapiccola is able to produce a magic that few composers have achieved when using a 'method' to write their music. As a matter of interest, there is a crux in Dallapiccola's works around 1945; from then on he tends to use the series to control more and more of the detail of the music. Yet, at the end of the day he was well able to combine Webern-esque austerity with a native Italian lyricism. It is this side of his work that we see in this present edition of his corpus of piano works.

The first composition on this disc is the complex Sonata Canonica (1943). This is based on the well known Capricci by Paganini. The work lasts for about eleven minutes and has four contrasting movements. This piece is constructed using all the contrapuntal devices preferred by the serialists - especially such intellectual games as the 'canon cancrizans'. However, in spite of this intellectualism, this is an attractive work that belies its cerebral conception.

Quaderno Musicale di Annalibera (1952) is Dallapiccola's acknowledged masterpiece for piano. This work was composed in 1952 for the Pittsburgh International Contemporary Music Festival. The composition is dedicated to the composer's daughter, Annalibera, for her 8th birthday. The English translation of the title means 'Musical Notebook for Annalibera,' and it does not take a great leap of the imagination to make the connection to the Musical Notebook for Anna Magdalena by J.S. Bach. There are fifteen short movements in this work - the longest being three minutes and the shortest 25 seconds. Each movement of the Quaderno Musicale di Annalibera is derived from the same twelve-tone series. It is arranged as a dialogue between successive 'free' and canonical movements. In the first movement, 'Simbolo,' the composer makes an explicit reference to Bach. He uses the B-A-C-H note set and harmonises it with the remaining notes from the full chromatic. Dallapiccola is able to use the constructive principle of the series to create a lyrical work that has considerable depth. It is not just an academic exercise.

The Three Episodes from the Ballet 'Marsia' is in many ways an even more lyrical work than the somewhat intellectual Quaderno. This was originally composed in 1942 and these movements transcribed a year later. There is a definite touch of Ravel in these pages. Much of the typically austere tone disappears and this piece could be seen as quite warm-hearted. Certainly there are nods to a more romantic style of pianism. Even the Ostinato middle movement has an approachable sound to it. The final Sereno is truly lovely. This is meditative serialism at its very best. A long piece, nearly five minutes, we are lost in an almost timeless world. Only occasional outbursts disturb the generally reflective flow of this music.

The last piece on this first CD is 'Music for Three Pianos.' All tracks have been played by Lya De Barberiis. I am not sure about the stereo realisation of this piece. It seems a bit unbalanced. However it is the only recording of this work in the current catalogue. This work was composed in 1935 and that year won the composer first prize in the Carillon International Competition in Geneva. Once again, we feel that Ravel is lurking in the shadows.

I like this music of Goffredo Petrassi. It is certainly cerebral stuff that is short on any obvious characteristic that will endear it to the general listener. But that does not mean we should ignore it. I must confess that I have not consciously heard any music by this Italian composer. All I knew about him is that he taught Kenneth Leighton, amongst others.

The second CD in this set is devoted to what appears to be Petrassi's complete piano works. Unfortunately there are not many of them; the CD is only 39 minutes long. So it does not feel like good value. And over and above this there is a considerable number of piano works that are not recorded here; there are some fourteen works in the catalogue for solo piano.

The Invenzioni (1944) - eight of them - are a breath of fresh air. These have a definite 'back to Bach' feel, although the ghost of Clementi is also invoked. They are appealing pieces that are thoroughly enjoyable, once one sinks into the harmonic and contrapuntal language.

Perhaps the most attractive piece is - Oh, les beaux jours! (1976). This was an elaboration of Piccola invenzione, 1941 and Divertimento scarlattiano, 1942. It has developed into three short pieces - Bagatelle, Petit Chat and Petite piece. The middle piece is the longest and reminds me of a friend's cat who used to walk up and down her piano keys.

The Toccata (1933) is nothing like a 'modern' example of this form. Here is no Schumann or Vierne. This is a slow, measured piece that has considerable depth. Of course there is considerable variety in the passages but it never really becomes a moto perpetuo. There are some truly gorgeous moments toward the end of this work. I feel that this is truly a great piece of music. Furthermore, this is the longest movement on these two discs - at just over seven minutes.

The short Siciliana for four hands (undated) is an attractive and approachable work that can almost be described as charming. This could have a place in the recital room as an encore.

The final Marcia (undated) is also written for four hands. I gather that the pianist has dubbed the two tracks, as no other player is mentioned in the sleeve-notes. This is another work that is totally approachable and perhaps a little atypical of this composer. But great fun all the same.

There is a definite problem with the programme notes. I do not know if it is the translation that has caused the problems or perhaps it is my lack of attention to dense prose. But that is the problem. Charity would encourage me to say that they are extremely learned; my East End of Glasgow dislike of pretentiousness would say they were pseudo-intellectual and the worse for it too.

However the music is what counts. There is no doubt in my mind that Lya De Barberiis brings great skill and understanding to this extremely closely argued music.

It is certainly an interesting by-way to explore. It would be wrong to suggest that this would be one of my desert island discs, yet I would be churlish if I did not recommend this disc as a good example of well controlled and quite sophisticated serial music.

John France

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