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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Complete Piano Music - Volume 1
Péchés de vieillesse, Vol. VII: Album de Chaumière Nos 1-7 [57:58]
Péchés de vieillesse, Vol. VII: Album de Chaumière Nos 8-12 [41:22]
Péchés de vieillesse, Vol. IX: Album pour piano, violon, violoncelle, harmonium et cor (Nos. 1, 3, 2, 5) [23:37]
Alessandro Marangoni (piano)
rec. Auditorium di Mortara, Pavia, Italy, 29 October-2 November 2006. DDD
NAXOS 8.570590-91 [57:58 + 64:59]
Experience Classicsonline

Gioachino Rossini’s remarkable life and career is well known: the opera composer who, with the world at his feet, appeared to retire at the age of 37. He had around 17 years of huge success with operas such as Il Barbiere di Siviglia, and after completing his last opera Guillaume Tell, he had another 39 years of ‘silence’. The second period of his life was in fact anything but silent, and Rossini would later turn up with pieces such as the Stabat Mater and the wonderful Petit messe solennelle.
More private were the creations which became collected as the Péchés de vieillesse or ‘Sins of Old Age’, which are contained in fourteen volumes. Some of these are for voice and piano, others, such as volume IX, include pieces with strings, harmonium and horn, the solo piano works from which appear at the end of this programme. Album de Chaumière or ‘The Cottage Album’ is the no doubt ironically twee title given to volume VII, the first of the albums for solo piano. This consists of 12 pieces ranging from titles such as Petite polka chinoise to works of a grander scale such as Une pensée à Florence. Rossini’s attitude with these works is frequently ironic and often deceptive. Confronted with a title such as Prélude inoffensif, one might expect something other than the extended lyrical aria which in fact appears. The generally light character of many of the pieces is interspersed with more searching, funereal atmospheres such as that in Un profound sommeil, and Un cauchemar – literally ‘A Nightmare’. In these pieces we are not so very far removed from the symbolic cries of the owl in Leoš Janáček’s ‘On a Overgrown Path.’ On the complete opposite there are parody-like pieces such as the bombastic Marche which closes Vol.VII.
Alessandro Marangoni is a young pianist and a rising star whose reputation will in no way be harmed with these recordings. Whatever one thinks of these ‘Sins of Old Age’ they are certainly a fascinatingly enigmatic and eclectic mixture of Rossini in all moods. Fans of the Petit messe solenelle must certainly investigate these pieces, as the thick piano chords and bouncy bass lines which crop up in that work are certainly not absent here. Fans of Rossini’s operas are also kept well fed with rich melodic invention, if performed instrumentally rather than vocally. This Naxos recording is very good, with a rich, deep piano sound, if captured in a rather dry and tubby acoustic. The impression is one of a front room soirée rather than a concert hall performance, which isn’t such a bad thing for these pieces. I do however feel that a slightly more sympathetic space might have helped Alessandro Marangoni when trying to give a more legato feel, or in varying the colour and mood. The pieces come across a little on the lumpy side sometimes, and the contrast between some of the works is less startling than might otherwise have been the case.                 
This new series will have to compete with the recordings by Stefan Irmer on MDG, and although there is no information on the instrument used in the Naxos recording – other than that it is a Steinway & Sons from the Angelo Fabbrini collection, it gives the impression of being an older instrument, a quality it would then share with the MDG recordings. The bass has a pleasant rounded quality, and the usual Steinway brightness only really shines through in the upper registers at higher volume. Any reservations I may have can be accounted for as a matter of personal taste, so nothing I say should stop anyone from dropping into their local retailer and bagging this remarkable release forthwith. This is going to turn into another of Naxos’s eminently collectable sets, and on this showing will prove to be worth it at almost any price.
Dominy Clements        


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