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Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Album de Château: Complete Works for Piano, Vol.7

Prélude Prétentieux [4:39]
Spécimen de Mon Temps [10:56]
Valse Anti-Dansante [7:17]
Prélude Semipastorale [12:24]
Tarantelle pur Sang (avec Traversée de la Procession) [9:14]
Un Rêve [8:40]
Prélude soi-disant Dramatique [10:39]
Spécimen de l’Avenir [10:17]
Paolo Giacometti (piano)
rec. October 2005, Doopsgezinde Kerk, Deventer, Netherlands
CHANNEL CLASSICS CCS SA 24106 [75:07]

The volumes of Rossini’s Péchés de Vieillesse contain an abundance of music rich in verve and wit. Not long ago I reviewed a volume in the ongoing complete recording by Stefan Irmer on Dabringhaus und Grimm (MDG 618 1353-2 - see review). Now here is a volume from another complete recording by Paolo Giacometti. Having been relatively neglected for many years, the Péchés are certainly getting plenty of attention – and very intelligent and skilled attention at that – in our day. Indeed there is a third series by Marco Sollini on Chandos.

I haven’t heard enough of the three series to express a confident preference for one over the others (if pressed I might, on admittedly insufficient evidence, plump for Giacometti). Nor am I even sure that I would want to choose one at the expense of the others – the existence of all three is too delightful to be any kind of embarrass de richesses.

Giacometti is a fine pianist, thoroughly attuned to the matter and manner of these mischievous, inventive pieces; never solemn but, in their own distinctive idioms, perfectly serious. They are full of a rich humanity, their brilliance tempered by a certain amused world-weariness, by ironic self-deprecation as well as by an eagerness to poke fun at the pomposity of others.
This is music both quintessentially Rossinian, redolent of the younger man who had written the operas, and richly allusive in its echoes of other composers, such as Chopin, Schumann, Liszt and Bach - as well as in the presence of what sound uncannily like anticipations of Satie or Poulenc.

The Prélude Prétentieux is presumably designated “prétentieux” because Rossini is amused – or affects amusement – when he finds himself writing a well-worked out fugue! The Valse Anti-Dansante could certainly be relied upon to confuse most dancers; in the brief, but interesting booklet notes by Giacometti it is aptly described as “a crooked waltz”! The Prélude Semipastorale starts out as pastorally idyllic as one could wish, but this mood is disrupted by a richly virtuosic second section; the Tarantelle pur Sang is certainly full-blooded (and technically demanding), but its fierce momentum is twice entertainingly disrupted by the bells of a church procession. This strategy of breaking the decorum of forms and idioms – disrupting the rhetorical rules and expectations in a fashion primarily humorous but occasionally also disconcerting – is one of the hallmarks of these pieces. I wonder if it isn’t perhaps one of the things Rossini had in mind when he called them péchés (sins)? And they are the sins of old age not just because Rossini was quite old when he wrote them, but because he was too old (and comfortable) to have to worry about sticking to the rules – they are the ‘sins’ against the ‘laws’ of music that he could get away with as an old man.

On this recording Giacometti plays a Pleyel piano of 1858. On some earlier volumes in the series he played an Erard of 1837. The Pleyel suits the music perfectly – it has both intimacy and power and it has been very well recorded by Channel’s engineers.

Whether you come to this because of a love of Rossini’s operas or because of a passion for the piano music of the nineteenth century, you will surely find a great deal to enjoy. There’s writing which is beautiful and lyrical; there’s writing which is funny; there is even some which, miraculously, is both beautiful and funny.

Glyn Pursglove

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