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Giovanni SGAMBATI (1841-1914)
The Complete Piano Works played by Pietro Spada in four volumes
Volume 1

Prélude et Fugue op.6 [5.23 + 9.07]
Deux Etudes de Concert op. 10 [4.05 + 8.25]
Fogli Volanti op. 12: Romanza in A flat major [4.36]; Canzonetta, in C minor [3.36]; Idillio, in E flat major [1.42]; Marcia (Humoresque), in A flat major [1.31]; Idillio, in E flat major; [1.44]; Vecchio Castello, in F minor [3.41]; Epanouissement, in D flat major [1.15]; Combattimento, in A flat minor [1.38] Campane a festa, in D flat minor [2.34]
Pezzi di seguito op. 18: Preludio, in A flat minor [3.47]; Vecchio Minuetto, in D flat major [5.34]; Nenia, in E flat minor [6.17]; Toccata, in A flat major [5.06]
Serenata from: Sinfonia op.16 in D major [6.45]
Pietro Spada (piano)
Rec. Rome, Italy, May 1998. DDD
ARTS RED LINE 47587-2 [78´45]
Volume 2

6 Notturni: 1 in B major op. 20/1 [5.50]; 2 in G major op. 20/2 [3.50]; 3 in C minor op. 20/3 [7.15]; 4 in B major [5.35]; 5 in D flat major op. 31 [6.00]; 6 in E major op. 33 [5.01]
Pièces Lyriques op. 23: Rapelle-toi (Romance), in E major [5.04]; À la fontaine, in D flat major [2.31]; Vox populi, in F major [4.29]; Do-Do, in F major [2.11]; Ländler, in E major [2.48]; Gigue, in E major [5.14]; Benedizione Nuziale, in A flat major [4.04]; Canzone Lituana in F major [4.04]; Mélodie de Gluck in D minor [3.59]; Minuetto von Beethoven in G flat major [5.42]; Sérénade Valsée, in A flat major [3.26]
Pietro Spada (piano)
Rec. Rome, Italy, May 1998. DDD
ARTS RED LINE 47588-2 [79´20]
Volume 3

Suite in B minor op.21: Prélude [4.35]; Valse [6.00]; Air [3.23]; Air [3.23]; Etude mélodique, in B major [5.00];
Boîte à musique, in D flat major [5.54];
Romanza, in A major [4.00]
Gavotta, in A flat minor [5.00]
Suite op. 42: Preludio [1.05]; Berceuse rêverie [4.54]; Melodia campestre [3.53]
Unpublished piecesSerenatina [1.45]
Scherzo, in E major [4.49]
Presentimento, in A flat major [1.31]
Mestizia [4.40]
Romanza [2.33]
Preludio, in C major [1.50]
Pietro Spada (piano)
Rec. Rome, Italy, June 1998. DDD
ARTS RED LINE 47589-2 [67´45]
Volume 4

Mélodies poétiques op. 36: Praeludium, in F major [1.00]; Canzonetta d'Aprile, in F major [3.10]; Rivelazione, in B flat major [1.52]; Sull'altalena, in G flat major [2.02]; Preghiera turbata [1.28]; Ansietà [1.28]; En valsant [1.16]; Dolci confidenze [1.30]; En valsant [1.18]; Marche [1.40]; Anima apassionata [2.06]; Profonda pena [2.29]; Cantico di speranza [2.43]
5 Improvvisi (Unpublished): (1), in A major [3.22]; (2), in F sharp minor [6.45]; (3), in E flat major [5.20]; (4), in B flat major [5.00]; (5), in E flat major [5.52]
Introduction et Etude brillante, in F major [6.13]
Etude triomphale, in A major [3.17]
Pietro Spada (piano)
Rec. Rome, Italy, July 1998. DDD
ARTS RED LINE 47590-2 [65´25]

 

The German company Arts Music enterprisingly took up the offer of pianist and Sgambati authority, Pietro Spada, to record the Italian composer’s complete works for solo piano.

Giovanni Sgambati was born in Rome and he died there. Bald facts tell only part of the story. He was in fact no parochialist and briefly his music permeated European and American cultural life with celebrity premieres by no means unusual in the period 1880-1905. He was out of the ordinary as an Italian composer in not writing opera. To this extent he laboured under the same burden as Martucci. Liszt took the young composer under his wing and introduced him to Wagner. It was Wagner’s intervention with Schotts that resulted in that company publishing many of Sgambati’s chamber works. He was also active as a conductor championing the German repertoire. He conducted Liszt’s Dante Symphony in 1866. Fellow Italian composer Alfredo Casella wrote an article about Sgambati (Music and Letters, 1925).

The first disc: The Prelude is splendidly nagging and there is then a pensively relaxed Fugue. The Etudes de Concert are taut and romantic - the second of these is rather stiff. The Schumann-like Fogli Volante are a poetic sequence - broadly centred in Schumann-Macdowell territory. The highlight is the Campane festa which is outstandingly atmospheric, beautifully weighted and flighted by Spada. Of the Quattro Pezzi Op. 18, the Minuetto and the Toccata are mechanically patterned and rigid. The Preludio and Nenia are, by contrast, strongly atmospheric romantic pieces. The Serenata (extracted from the First Symphony) is a song swung with muscular romantic reach - leonine and Brahmsian. What Rudolf Serkin would have made of this at his peak!

CD2: The Six Nocturnes Opp. 20, 31, 33 are well worth hearing. Their ‘tribute’ is paid more to Chopin than to Field; more to Grieg than to Liszt. I commend these Nocturnes to any young player wanting to surprise her or his audience or a competition jury with something other than Chopin. The Lyrical Pieces Op. 23 are quite varied with a liquid and almost impressionistic À la fontaine contrasting with a dramatic Wagnerian night scene in Vox Populi. The Beethoven Minuet is a faithful mood parallel.

CD3: The Op. 21 Suite in five movements is the stuff of charm rather than anything else and triangulates pleasingly between Chopin, Brahms and Grieg. The Boite à Musique is a most skilful emulation of the clockwork music-box effect - extremely attractive. The Romance and the Gavotte are grandly Brahmsian. The Melodia Campestre from his very late Op. 42 suite uses a serenade-like tune in the Neapolitan manner. The plums among the unpublished pieces include the Presentimento and the lapping and rocking motion of the Preludio.

The fourth and final volume of the series is the shortest playing of the four. It includes the Mélodies Poétiques Op. 36. The sea-swell of Rivelazione is well put across by Spada. Who could resist the simplicity and singing charm of En valsant. The Profonda pena is more poignant, more searching. Spada rescued the Five Improvvisi from unpublished obscurity. The cradle-rocking No. 3 with the Gavotte-like No. 4 are the pick of the bunch.

Sgambati was by no means a mere miniaturist. His First Symphony was written in 1881. The Second followed two years later. The Piano Concerto was written in 1871. Two piano quintets date from the period 1866-70 and both are recorded on ASV-Sanctuary. In addition there is a Requiem for baritone, chorus and orchestra in 1895. The Requiem dates from 1895 and was written to mark the death of King Victor Emmanuel II then revised on the murder of King Umberto I in 1901. The First Symphony was dedicated to the Royal Family being premiered under Toscanini’s baton at the Quirinale. His works were given in all the major European cultural centres. The Requiem, First Symphony and Piano Concerto were all performed in London. In the Requiem a Fauré-like reticence meets the drama of apocalyptic visions. The Piano Concerto has been recorded several times and Carus have a good version of the Requiem. As for the Symphonies, the First has been recorded by Actes-Sud coupled with the Piano Concerto (Alexander Paley, piano; Montpellier National Orchestra/Friedemann Layer) while the Second Symphony and the substantial suite Epitalamo Sinfonico (occasionally referred to as the Third Symphony) remain up for grabs.

Pietro Spada provides the in-depth notes based on many years researching Sgambati. You will come away from reading these with your knowledge of Sgambati and his milieu deepened and widened.

This series sheds pleasing and definitive light on a neglected corner of the romantic repertoire. You can buy these discs separately so if you intend to buy only one then go for Vol. 1 with the remarkable Fogli Volanti. This music will be sure to ingratiate if you lap up Brahms, Grieg and Schumann. Sgambati had a fine mind and his pieces are often superbly structured for clarity and romantic sensibility. Spada very occasionally articulates the music stiffly. In general though, encouraged by the excellence of many of these pieces, he rises to the challenge with high honours.

Rob Barnett



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