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Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Piano Works
Péchés de Vieillesse, Volume 7: Gammes et Spécimens

Petite promenade de Passy à Courbevoie, la percourant (homéopathiquement et à la pesarese) [3:31]
Un cauchemar [11:52]
Tourniquet sur la gamme chromatique [5:24]
Spécimen de l’ancien régime [18:07]
Gamme, Des montées et des descentes; Deux gammes chinoises, suivies d’une mélodie analogue:
Première montée et descente [2:19]
Deuxième montée et descente [0:55]
Première Gamme chinoise, Montante et descendante [0:45]
Deuxième Gamme chinoise, Montante et descendante [0:39]
L’amour à Pekin, Petite mélodie sur la gamme chinoise [4:23] *
Spécimen de mon temps [10:42]
Des tritons s’il vous plait, Montée – Descente [1:24]
Encore unpeu de blague, Montée – Descente [2:55]
Spécimen de l’avenir [11:42]
Ritournelle gothique [3:42]
Stefan Irmer (piano)
* Michaela Dobmeir (alto)
rec. 20-22 April, 2006, Fürstliche Reitbahn Bad Arolsen.

A well-filled, well-played selection of the extraordinary solo piano pieces included in Rossini’s Péchés de Vieillesse, part of an ongoing series which has been deservedly very well-received.

What is sin? So far as I understand it the orthodox Christian defines it (in the words of the Shorter Catechism) as follows: "Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God." If for "the law of God" we substitute "the conventions of the musical establishment", then the relevance (however ironic) of the word to Rossini’s joyously, inventively transgressive music is readily apparent. Consider, for example, the games played on the listener’s expectations – which are, of course, conditioned by his or her familiarity with musical convention – in the opening piece the Petite promenade de Passy à Courbevoie, la percourant (homéopathiquement et à la pesarese). The work is built around a repeated phrasal pattern, four measures long, which moves through the keys built on the twelve tones of the chromatic scale. A concluding passage of greater urgency, with insistent repetitions in the left hand seems to be bringing the work to a predictable end when, suddenly, the music stops and the previously repeated phrase is heard again, once in E major and once in E minor. The composer had ‘forgotten’ these keys in the earlier sequence! In a verbal note in the score, Rossini ‘apologises’ to the keys he had overlooked and inserts them in the midst of his conclusion – which is resumed after this ‘interruption’!

Elsewhere – in, for example, Encore un peu de blague – the repetitions are unlike anything in the then prevailing language of music; rather, as Irmer observes in his excellent booklet notes, they "point far into the future, to the 840 repetitions of Erik Satie’s Vexations and other minimalist concepts in the music of the twentieth century".

In the prevailing air of sheer impudence, in the elements of parody (of Liszt and Wagner in Spécimen de l’avenir, for example), in the remarkable syntheses of the styles of other composers and in many other ways this is music that has a youthful energy and, perhaps, irresponsibility, which might, in some eyes, have been thought ‘sinful’ in a man of Rossini’s advanced years; rarely can an elderly composer have so resolutely refused to live up to conventional presuppositions, so adamantly – and vividly – refused to play the role of the sober sage, the elder statesman. Instead we get music that blurs the boundaries between the playful and the serious, that quizzes every established convention, music which has the same high intelligence and studied irreverence which characterises the witty titles the composer gives it – Rossini’s titles are both a delight in themselves and an important part of the complex game of ironised traditions and startling experimentation that is the Péchés de Vieillesse. Thank goodness Rossini was so ‘sinful’, so willing to flout the expectations of the merely respectable.

I sometimes find Irmer just a little short on Italianate lyricism, but his is a thoroughly valid and rewarding way of playing Rossini’s late music and he certainly respects both its wit and its seriousness – for this is music with serious purposes, however far way it is from ever being solemn.

As is usually the case with productions by MDG, the recorded sound is exemplary. If you have, like me, already fallen under the spell of the Péchés de Vieillesse you will surely want to add this CD to your collection. If not, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

Glyn Pursglove


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