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Chamber Music with Clarinet
Pietro BOTTESINI (1792-1874)

Theme and Variations for flute, clarinet and string quartet [13:04]
Divertimento for clarinet and string quartet [15:39]
Aria from Rossini’s ‘Ciro in Babilonia’ for clarinet and guitar (arr. Luigi Magistrelli) [4:13]
Giovanni BOTTESINI (1821-1889)

Gran Duo for clarinet, double bass and piano [9:15] (c. 1840)
Pietro BOTTESINI (1792-1874)

Quartet No. 3 for violin, clarinet, guitar and cello [6:49]
Quartet No. 6 for violin, clarinet, guitar and cello [5:39]
Theme and Variations for clarinet and piano [10:12]
Luigi Magistrelli (clarinet); Elena Cecconi (flute); Massimo Laura (guitar); Piermario Murelli (double-bass); Claudia Bracco (piano); Andriani String Quartet: (Nicola Mansutti (violin); Cristiano Mamprin (violin); Claudio Andriani (viola); Alessandro Andriani (cello))
rec. September 2004, April 2005, S. Stefano Ticino, Italy. DDD
TALENT RECORDS DOM 2910 124 [64:51]

Every now and then along comes a disc of unfamiliar music, a ‘blind date’, where the initial sense of apprehension joyously transforms itself as a breath of fresh air. Enterprising independent Belgium label Talent Records have done it again with this recording of clarinet-led chamber music, from father and son Pietro and Giovanni Bottesini. From my experience Talent consistently provide the listener with fascinating musical adventures. I have fond memories from last year of the excellent performances of Wolf-Ferrari’s Concertos for oboe; English horn and bassoon, a disc that I was delighted to select as one of my 2006 Records of the Year on SACD DOM 2929 90.

Providing six scores on this release is the little known Italian composer Pietro Bottesini (1792-1874) who evidently was a clarinettist who performed in orchestras in the Milan area. Giovanni Bottesini, who is represented here by a single score, was born in Crema in 1821. From an early age Giovanni was taught music by his father Pietro and found fame as a double-bass virtuoso, being nicknamed the ‘Paganini of the double-bass’. A versatile as well as a talented musician he also played the cello, conducted and composed. Giovanni travelled widely becoming an honorary member of the Philharmonic Society of New York. The year 1870 was particularly successful when his opera Vinciguerra ran for forty performances in Paris and his comic opera Alì Babà was staged at the Lyceum Theatre, London. Giovanni is best remembered today for conducting the première of Verdi’s Aïda in Cairo on Christmas Eve 1871.

Italian instrumental music of a bel canto style is fairly sparse in the repertoire, with the best known composers of the genre being Donizetti, Rossini, Paganini and Carulli. In view of this shortfall it is good to have these additions. However, I can inform the listener that these chamber scores, although attractive are lightweight compositions of the salon variety.

The opening score is Pietro Bottesini’s Theme and Variations for flute, clarinet and string quartet. In discernible sections this is brisk and sparkling music evocative of the atmosphere of village carnivals and country fairs. Remarkable is the virtuosity of the playing from exceptionally talented clarinettist Luigi Magistrelli and flautist Elena Cecconi.

Pietro Bottesini’s Divertimento for clarinet and string quartet in one movement is cast in several contrasting segments. Playing almost continuously the writing for the clarinet is demanding for soloist Magistrelli with a significant part too for the violin. I enjoyed the tender opening section tinged with melancholy and the brief solo passage for the violin at 1:38-1:49. Also notable is the section at 6:02-7:28 containing an upbeat and vivacious episode for clarinet and then violin. In the delightful closing section at 11:47-15:32 the clarinet and violin alternate in virtuoso display.

The short Aria from Rossini’s Ciro in Babilonia for clarinet and guitar from Pietro Bottesini is presented here in an arrangement prepared by Magistrelli from the flute and guitar original. A soft and gentle duet, the clarinet has the majority of the material supported by the guitar. In truth the Aria from Ciro in Babilonia’ is a pleasant but rather unmemorable work.

Giovanni Bottesini’s contribution to the release is his Gran Duo for clarinet, double bass and piano. For this recording to achieve a more incisive sound the double-bass has been tuned a tone and a half higher in keeping with the preference of the composer for his own double-bass. The score sports a heavy piano introduction and shares the material reasonably fairly between clarinet and double-bass. Played continuously in two distinct sections a mid-paced opening switches to lively more upbeat writing with a brilliant conclusion.

From Pietro Bottesini the Quartet No. 3 for violin, clarinet, guitar and cello is full of life and includes themes likely to have come from popular operas of the day. Pietro’s Quartet No. 6 for the same forces is marked by a lovely slow introduction to 2:43 when the pace increases to a brisker tempo. Although strongly featuring the violin and clarinet the score provides display opportunities for all four soloists.

I especially enjoyed the final work on the release Pietro Bottesini’s Theme and Variations - a duet for clarinet and piano that evidently contains a theme from Donizetti’s opera seria Anna Bolena (1830). In this technically challenging score Magistrelli has to navigate many hurdles. I admired the wonderful clarinet writing, especially the extended virtuoso passage at 0:33-1:24. The instrument enjoys a deserved rest between 4:02-4:35 with the piano taking centre-stage, although, sounding rather like a public house instrument. The cheerful mood changes at 5:47-6:46 with an affectionate Andante section, followed by a brilliant solo clarinet passage at 6:47-7:07. Ebullient and lively playing chases the score to a satisfying conclusion.

The playing on this disc is exceptional throughout, captured with clarity and body. The gifted Magistrelli, who appears on all seven works, is quite outstanding. It is to his credit that with all three types of clarinet employed he obtains a consistently lovely golden tone with especially impressive breath control.

I must also highlight the impeccable playing of flutist Elena Cecconi along with Piermario Murelli’s marvellous performance on the double-bass. Fine support too from the members of the Andriani String Quartet, guitarist Massimo Laura and pianist Claudia Bracco. It does feel like splitting hairs to point out the less appealing timbre of the keyboard on the final track. The booklet notes from Luigi Magistrelli were acceptable.

Not indispensable by any means but a well performed and recorded disc of lightweight Italian bel canto instrumental music. A refreshing change.

Michael Cookson


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