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Cesare CIARDI (1818-1877)
Music for Flute

Gran Concerto in D major, Op. 129* (c.1859) [20:17]
L'Eco dell'Arno, Op. 34* [10:02]
Il carnevale di Venezia, Op. 22* [7:26]
Le Rossignol du Nord, Op. 45 [6:08]
Un sospiro del cuore [6:00]
La Smorfiosetta [2:56]
Di Chi? [5:28]
Piccola fantasia su 2 Stornelli napoletani [5:07]
Roberto Fabbriciani (flute)
Massimiliano Damerini (piano)
Orchestra Sinfonica del Friuli Venezia Giulia*/Stefan Fraas
rec. April 2004, The Auditorium in Udine (Italy).
NAXOS 8.557857 [63:24]

Cesare Ciardi, “the Paganini of the flute” has previously only been a name to me, which, being a flautist myself, worries me a little. There are some other things which worry me about this issue, but we’ll come to those later.

Ciardi was a genuine flute specialist, composing principally for his own instrument and making a name for himself from his very first public concert appearance in 1827 at which he was presented to the royal family and the audience by none other than Nicolò Paganini. He soon became a recognised virtuoso on the flute, touring widely and ending up in St. Petersburg, where Ciardi became a professor at the Conservatory and where Tchaikovsky numbered among his pupils. 

The Gran Concerto is his only concerto for flute, and was originally for flute and piano. The composer apparently did orchestrate the accompaniment at one stage, but this version has been lost, and the current arrangement, along with those for L'Eco dell' Arno and Il carnevale di Venezia, has been sensitively carried out by soloist Roberto Fabbriciani. The Gran Concerto is a virtuoso showcase as one might expect, but the music leads one in to a world in which all of those runs and leaps are based on attractive melodies and interesting harmonic progressions. The opening is soulful and quiet, but quickly builds to a true concerto-feel. The orchestra has nice string tone, and while the flute is fairly forward in the balance the soloist never quite manages to drown out the accompaniment. Despite Ciardi’s Russian residence, his music never loses its Italianate sense of charm and lyricism. The slow movement has a nice sense of restful flow and some attractive harmonic ‘hooks’, the finale a punchy drama and some witty melodic gestures to have the audience leave with a smile. 

L’eco dell’Arno is a fantasia which demonstrates not only Ciardi’s talent for creating catchy and inventive melodic lines but also his great love of folk music. The piece is based on traditional Tuscan themes, which expand nicely after a slightly bombastic opening – no doubt a reflection of Ciardi’s own operatic inclinations. Il carnevale di Venezia, like the more famous version by Giulio Briccialdi, is based on the canzonetta ‘Cara mamma mia’. Some Ciardi’s variations are even more remarkable than the ones we have come to know and love but have a similar effect, sometimes making the listener convinced that there are two flutes playing rather than one.

The remaining works on this disc are all accompanied by piano, played nicely by Massimiliano Damerini who has worked with Fabbriciani before, appearing with him on an album of Morricone pieces. Like L’eco dell’Arno, Le Rossignol du nord is another fantasia, a set of brilliant, song-like variations on a popular Russian theme. Un sospiro del cuore is like an aria for flute, starting with a dramatic ‘recitativo’, and then adopting an expressive lyrical style which is a gift for flautists. La Smorfiosetta is a playful capriccio, Di Chi? a gentle polka-mazurka with more virtuoso flute writing, and finally the Piccola fantasia su 2 Stornelli napoletani, which has some nice ‘ariosa’ tunes and even some touches of German ‘lied’ style in the first half.

Lots of interesting music on this new disc then, and a valuable source of new repertoire for flautists everywhere. I will, however, be interested to hear what my colleagues think of Roberto Fabbriciani’s playing – in general, and on this disc in particular. Fabbriciani has done sterling work in promoting and stimulating contemporary music, but on the strength of this album I think I’d rather play my pieces myself. It is easy to become starry eyed about what we currently accept as flute ‘sound’ today, but I will be the first to say that I find it hard to listen to the crisp and brilliant, some might say glassy sound of – say – James Galway, at least for long periods. I find it refreshing to hear players like Michel Debost, who make their way in the world with a more rounded, less ‘power’ orientated sound, and lately Sharon Bezaly, whose technique is superb, but very much servant to the music. I spent some time trying to work out what is going on in this recording: is Fabbriciani playing an old wooden flute in a gesture toward authenticity? I play an old wooden pre-war Hofinger myself and know some of the pitfalls, but there is no mention of anything like this in the booklet. I won’t say Fabbriciani is a bad flautist – just hear him whip around the virtuoso stuff on this disc and many folk will take it all in like jammy buns. I cannot however say in all honesty that I enjoy his breathy, sometimes grainy, sometimes rather matt tone. Just taking the Gran Concerto, the slow movement lacks the easy lyricism which the music requires – it all seems rather a strain. At the extremes of the range this is most noticeable, and to me it too often sounds more like a flautist ‘just about hanging in there’ rather than a flautist ‘firing on all cylinders’. Despite all the technical flightiness I do detect unevenness here and there, the attack on some of the upper notes is rather ugly at times, and intonation strains at the upper half of the note too often to make the whole thing a pleasant experience, even for a tolerant fellow like myself. 

There we have it. I am sorry to be so negative, but I would strongly advise a quick audition before you buy. Even at budget price, our soloist is not necessarily guaranteed to pass the entrance exam into your collection.

Dominy Clements


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