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Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Péchés de Vieillesse, Volume 6: Italian Reminiscences (1857-1868)

Prélude Italien [5:53]; Líinnocence italienne/ La candeur française [7:27; La Venitienne-Canzonetta [5:56]; Une pensée à Florence [8:29]; Saltarello à líitalienne [4:13]; Barcarole [4:57]; Impromptu tarantellisé [5:29]; La Savoi aimante [6:09]; Marche [6:02]; Une bagatelle-In nomine patris [1:05]; Échantillon du chant de Noël à líitalienne [6:11]; Première Communion [4:48]; Tarantelle pur sang (avec traversée de la procession) [10:47]
Stefan Irmer (piano [Steinway D, 1901, nr. 100398])
rec. 22-23 October 2005, Fürstliche Reitbahn, Bad Arolsen. DDD


Gioacchino Rossini is well-known as composer of many comic and serious operatic masterpieces. He is widely considered the most important opera composer of the first third of the nineteenth century. Fewer people are familiar first-hand with his Péchés de Vieillesse, or Sins of Old Age. This is the name Rossini gave to a large collection of chamber music he composed during the last eleven years of his life, between 1857 and 1868. These pieces remain relatively unknown to the general public and are only too rarely performed in concert halls. That this neglect is unjust is amply demonstrated by the pianist Stefan Irmer with the fine selection on this release.

Stefan Irmer has joined forces with the German publishers MDG - which stands for the rather evocative Musikproduktion Dabringhaus und Grimm, which has as its address, appropriately, the Bachstrasse - in a bold and very welcome effort to record many, if not all the solo piano pieces in Rossiniís Péchés de Vieillesse. The six CDs that have come out so far have not been listed by MDG as a series, but by now it certainly seems to be one, proving there is a public interest in these fine works.

All of Rossiniís many operas were composed with a rigorous classical model as their basis. Rossini frequently and often successfully deviates from or expands the boundaries of these formal models, blurring but at the same time enhancing the classical structures and finding new dramatic ways for expression. The same applies to his piano pieces. Like most of Rossiniís compositions, including even the most humble, these possess the style, class and grandeur of the Classical age, infused with wit, sensitivity and genuine feeling - though not always simultaneously, of course. The razor-sharp wit and painful drama which characterize Rossiniís comic and semi-serious operas are equally present in Rossiniís instrumental pieces.

Although some titles suggest otherwise, the piano pieces are not really programmatic. Titles like La Venitienne (the Venetian girl) or La Savoie aimante (The lovely Savoy girl) seem to function more as guiding ideas, or sources of inspiration to the composer (which the listener can choose to follow or not) than an introduction to literal storytelling à la Richard Straussís Ein Heldenleben. Their abstract mould allows the vivid colours of the music to invoke in the listener his or her own images and profound feelings of beauty and carefree youthfulness, of painful ironies and melancholy, and of sentimentality and outright joy. Thus, while it may certainly have been inspired by the city in which its composer had spend his last years, before leaving behind his native Italy for Paris permanently, to me Une pensée à Florence (A thought of Florence) is primarily a beautifully sensitive work which tells a story of restrained joy and sadness at the same time, and of sentimentality without pity. Of course, it has also given me a beautiful reminiscence of a city which, I must admit, I have never visited!

As can be expected from one of the great geniuses of nineteenth century opera, Rossini makes very effective use of the whole range of the piano, often producing a lush fullness of sound, evoking the effect of a full orchestra. Nevertheless, as in his orchestral writing, Rossiniís music is always transparently structured, making it easy to hear all the notes and melodies, without being anything near easy-listening. Both points are clearly illustrated in the magnificent Tarantelle pur sang (full-blooded Tarantula). In addition, this piece has an unexpected witticism up its sleeve, with the dance theme being followed by a Ďpassing processioní, a slow section that completely lives up to its accurately descriptive title; an operatic and visual device par excellence inserted into a piano piece!

Stefan Irmer has taken up the task of presenting us with a wide selection of the pearls of Rossiniís latter-day output. We are fortunate with the efforts of this pianist who is very much at ease with Rossiniís deceptively simple-sounding music. His touch is appropriately light and tender, thoughtful and enthusiastic. From the century-old Steinway he draws a warm, comforting sound, which is helped by the natural acoustics. MDG attach great importance to the audiophile quality of their recordings. They do not modify or manipulate the sound in any way, but instead make use of the specific acoustics of each, carefully chosen, recording location. The result here is a warm and perfectly natural sound, creating the ambience and intimacy of a real salon concert, as if the listener was actually present at one of Rossiniís famous soirées musicales.

The fine musical selection is complemented by an informative essay, in which the artist gives his views on each piece, their form and how they relate to each other. This and the background information on Stefan Irmer is given in English, French and German.

The selection on this CD is a well-balanced mix of moods, styles and tempi; ranging from a march to dance themes, to pseudo-religious movements and barcaroles. All in all, this recording is bound to give the listener sustained enjoyment and the opportunity to get a more comprehensive, better-rounded picture of the man and his music.

Joost Overdijkink


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