entire solo piano output is covered on this Metier release.
Like the late-lamented Luciano Berio, he studied with Giorgio
Federico Ghedini, and his influence is most keenly heard in
the “icy, glittering sound-world” (from Michael Finnissy) that
the music for the most part inhabits. There is a tendency towards
the extremes of the instrument’s register, particularly the
upper; repeated percussive effects as opposed to the sustaining
of melody, though this does fleetingly occur as does a brusqueness
that can dominate an equally playful imagination.
Sarah Nicolls’ formidable
technique and reputation for interpreting highly complex contemporary
works precedes her. She is more than equal to any challenge
thrown at her here. No doubt her experience in playing Berio
(she gave the UK premiere of his piano sonata) and Dallapiccola
have paid some dividends in helping her get inside Castiglioni’s
works, if only through the contrast of the composer’s styles
many ways sets the pattern for Castiglioni’s later piano output,
characterized as it is by bursts of notes in the treble register.
These have an edgy, nervous quality about them. At around 2:15
the work plunges with ferocious venom into the bass register,
against which again a treble part is sustained. At 5:09 there
is the appearance of a possible melody trying to emerge, but
this already has a disjointed quality. The silences that punctuate
the stabs of sound also prove telling in structuring and clarifying
the notated sections. These too heighten the contrast and extended
exaggeration within the work as a whole. It ends with a string
of pianissimo statements, almost collapsing in upon themselves.
In her brief programme
note, Nicolls states that she is drawn to the “childlike nature”
of the music, and “would heartily recommend Come io passo
l’estate for children as a fantastic set of varied, highly
imaginative pieces.” Of all the works included here this is
indeed the most obviously approachable and fun-filled – not
least due to the relatively extended melodic lines that Castiglioni
uses. As the title translates to ‘How I spent my summer’, the
ten tracks are in effect a series of mini musical postcards.
They reference forms such as the albumblatt perhaps,
but never stoop to pastiche, though you might encounter the
ghosts of Schoenberg or Satie. Nicolls expertly catches these
aspects and plays it all unfussily, with a sense of wide-eyed
(Sechs Geistliche Lieder) – Chilled Sweetness (Six Religious
Songs) – is a set that possesses a sense of inner repose.
The first movement (Humility) and the second (Earth)
show subdued signs of Cangianti’s influence. Later movements
include allusions to Beethoven or possibly Wagner: horn calls
that are chord-based and of striking simplicity. Just as with
the Sonatina there is a quiet yet growing insistence
with repeated notes. Often it seems that this is as much at
the will of the performer as the instruction of the composer.
The final work,
HE, is marked ‘to be played as loud and as fast as possible’.
Nicolls reports that this corresponds to qualities she heard
in Castiglioni’s own playing. It displays again much of Cangianti’s
flamboyance, although there is an even more brittle quality
than before. Yet there is also a certain balance and poise that
Nicolls brings out, indicating perhaps a distant reference to
classical ideals not formally stated in the music. Above all
Nicolls demonstrates fearlessness in delivering a full-on performance;
precisely the quality of “playful intellectuality” that, as
Michael Finnissy notes, is so central to Castiglioni’s output.
In the end, this
disc’s appeal will depend more on your liking of Castiglioni’s
works than Nicolls’ advocacy of them. I found them a touch hard
going on repeated hearings, and preferred to take individual
works in isolation. But this is only my opinion, and there will
be many for whom Nicolls’ debut disc will prove a richly rewarding