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Piano music: Le Danza del Re David (1925) [16:12]; Questo fu il carro della Morte (1913) [6:02]; Alt Wien (1923) [16:26]; I Naviganti (1919) [7:41]; Piedigrotta (1924) [20:37]
Mark Bebbington (piano)
rec. CBSO Centre, Birmingham, 3-4 Jan 2003 DDD
SOMM SOMMCD 032 [66:56]


It was through the encouragement of his teacher Aldo Ciccolini that Mark Bebbington began to perform the piano music of Castelnuovo-Tedesco. This composer was born in Italy. However in the 1930s his Jewish ancestry forced him to leave for the USA. There he made a career in Hollywood. His pupils include André Previn and Nelson Riddle. You might well have heard his name. He wrote a guitar concerto for Segovia and this was recorded. Also his reputedly Hollywood-brash Second Violin Concerto, subtitled The Prophets, was taken up and recorded by Jascha Heifetz (RCA).

All the pieces on this disc predates the flight to America. The music is a fascinating blend of impressionistic delicacy, the memory of simple songs and the clangour of bells. Nothing here is dissonant or difficult to access.

The five movement suite Le danza del Re David is bejewelled music with a Semitic sway to the themes amid pearlescent decorative writing. The main influence is Debussy. The themes have the character of children's nursery rhymes but they are dressed in serious and technically demanding garb. Dark and bell-like percussive writing alternates with impressionistic textures. The final section ends in a blaze of bells recalling writing by Bax and Rachmaninov.

The Questo fu il carro della morte is a relaxed and gently-lit sketch with a rising bell-like swing and ultimately a triumphant impact.

The three movement Alt Wien was written for the Princesse de Polignac. It should appeal to those who enjoy the decorative liquid brio of Godowsky in his Sonata and in the Java Suite (the Esther Budiardjo recording is superb). With a title like that we must not be surprised to catch the shards and shrapnel of waltzes recalled and suggested. There are times when this sounds as if it might have been a piano transcription of Ravel's La Valse.

I Naviganti projects a delicate air of mystery gently coloured. Romantic gestures strike languidly upwards from the mezzotint haze.

Piedigrotta is a Neapolitan fantasy in five movements. It includes an angry tormented tarantella. Notte e luna is suggestive of some warm Granada night-scene. There is even a suggestion of the same atomised dance material we find in Alt Wien as well as the playground innocence of Le danze del Re David.

All credit to Mark Bebbington and Somm for opening this stimulating door on this little known piano music by a composer who died in Beverley Hills some forty years ago. Bebbington's playing is sensitive. Technically these pieces seem to lie well under his hands. If you enjoy Godowsky, Debussy, Bax and Mompou you will want this disc. This is music of drifting suggestive half-lights and exuberant impressionism.

Rob Barnett


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