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Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Piano Works, Vol. 5

Prélude Blaguer [6:39]
Prélude soitdisant Dramatique [12:00]
Prélude Pétulant Rococò [7:28]
Prélude Inoffensif [10:01]
Prélude Baroque [6:22]
Prélude Semipastorale [14:44]
Prélude Fugassé [4:22]
Prélude Moresque [4:31]
Bolero Tartare [9:46]
Stefan Irmer (piano)
rec. 10-12 November 2004, Fürstliche Reitbahn Bad Arolsen, Germany.

Rossini had a wonderful verbal wit, observing, for example, that "One cannot judge Lohengrin from a first hearing, and I certainly do not intend to hear it a second time". Or, on being shown funeral music for Meyerbeer, written by the dead composer’s nephew: "Very nice, but tell me frankly, don't you think it would have been better if it had been you who had died, and your uncle who had written the Funeral March?". And, of course, his musical wit is abundantly evident in his comic operas. It is perhaps only in his Sins of Old Age that he brought together comprehensively both kinds of wit.

Volume 5 of Stefan Irmer’s excellent survey of the piano music concentrates – almost exclusively – on pieces to which Rossini gave titles including the word ‘Prélude’. Irmer’s booklet notes, which are very interesting, tell us that in the Sins Rossini applies the word to twelve compositions; eight of them are played here. The word is nowhere allowed to stand alone to give a title to a composition. Always it has an adjectival word or phrase to accompany it, but not necessarily to clarify it or the music. Indeed a number of the titles are teasingly mischievous – we have a "so-called dramatic" prelude, an "inoffensive" prelude and a "semipastoral" prelude, for example – such titles set up complex and ironic relationships between words and music. In some cases the adjective does seem to promise ‘definition’ of the music – a "baroque" prelude and a "moorish" prelude, for instance. The latter does have a Spanish flavour but the former owes as much to the Viennese waltz and bel canto opera as it owes to the baroque. At least the "prelude fugassé" is fugal! But even here it is probably not irrelevant to remember that some other French words, like ‘fugace’, meaning transient or whimsical.

When Rossini designates a prelude as "inoffensive" and the actual music is, in Irmer’s words, amongst "the most refined and amazing of all of Rossini’s piano compositions", should we dismiss the title as genuinely self-deprecatory? Or treat it as a bit of false modesty, seeking from the listener a response along the lines of "nut, maestro Rossini, it is so much more than merely inoffensive"?

In suggesting that some of the interest in these pieces lies in the ‘gap’ between verbalisation and music, a gap exploited with characteristically Rossinian wit, I don’t mean to suggest that these piano pieces are not well-endowed with purely musical interest. This is witty music, often serious but never solemn. There is some quite marvellous writing here – from the dotted octaves of the Prélude Moresque to the virtuoso passages in the Prélude Semipastorale, from the effervescence of the Prélude Pétulant Rococò to the almost Chopinesque velocity of the Prélude Blaguer.

Stefan Irmer is fully committed to this music and plays it with considerable insight and certainty of technique. The sound of his Steinway D of 1901 is as well recorded as one expects from Dabringhaus und Grimm.

Rossini was a man with a great capacity for pleasure and for giving pleasure to others. This CD might fittingly be accompanied by Tournedos Rossini or Canelloni alla Rossini, or perhaps by some of that port from the cellars of the Royal Household which the king of Portugal regularly sent as a gift to the composer. Even with such accompaniments it is a thoroughly enjoyable disc.

Glyn Pursglove



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