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
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