Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Impromptu D899 No 1 in C minor [11:06]
Impromptu D899 No 2 in E flat [4:46]
Impromptu D899 No 3 in G flat [6:18]
Impromptu D899 No 4 in A flat [7:57]
Impromptu D935 No 1 in F minor [11:53]
Impromptu D935 No 2 in A flat [7:54]
Impromptu D935 No 3 in B flat [11:49]
Impromptu D935 No 4 in F minor [6:14]
Andrea Lucchesini (piano)
rec. 27-28 November 2009, Saloncino del Teatro della Pergola, Firenze, Italy
AVIE RECORDS AV2179 [67:55]

Andrea Lucchesini first came to my attention in 2005, when I found his then-new cycle of the complete Beethoven piano sonatas for about twenty-five pounds online. The cycle is a box set of live recordings from a spectacular month-long marathon of Italian recitals, and appeared on an Italian label, Stradivarius. As suddenly as it had surfaced it vanished, leaving me with a copy and, at the time of this writing, leaving little evidence of its existence behind on the Internet. There remain some truly ecstatic reviews and a handful of websites offering visitors the opportunity to download it illegally.

Forgive this one-paragraph digression: this paragraph describes Beethoven and not Schubert, yes, but it also illustrate Lucchesini’s aims as a performer. Lucchesini’s Beethoven is beautiful. I know “beautiful” is an overused, indeed meaningless, word in the world of music reviews, but it is the most descriptive word available because it describes not just his style but his purpose. Lucchesini’s goal throughout the cycle is to treat the music as if it is the epitome of tonal beauty. He can play with force, he can bring out the drama in sonatas like the Appassionata, and he is a master of the music’s architecture: his “Hammerklavier” inspired the praise of Luciano Berio, whose complete piano works Lucchesini then recorded. (The Berio disc has been praised elsewhere on this site.) Lucchesini is at his best, though, letting the music glow, tapping inexhaustible reserves of melody, and making the piano sound feather-light. His soft playing is some of the most gorgeous I know. The few non-Italians lucky enough to get their hands on the Beethoven box before its extinction all say the same things: Lucchesini’s view dazzles quietly, not with pyrotechnics but with poetry.

I should be reviewing this new Schubert CD, rather than an out-of-print Beethoven sonata cycle. But I describe the Beethoven in depth because the same qualities which characterize Lucchesini’s Beethoven also bless his Schubert, and in his quest for lyrical beauty, Andrea Lucchesini never loses sight of Schubert’s mastery of form. This is essential listening.

Lucchesini cannot be characterized as a “fast” or “slow” player. His tendency is towards care of the music’s needs, and that means his approach varies: this Impromptu D899 No. 1 is one of the slowest around, at eleven minutes exceeded in my collection only by Javier Perianes and Tzimon Barto, but the performance of the famous G flat impromptu is comparatively fleet. Tempo is not the watchword here, but expression: the accompaniment to the G flat’s beloved main melody takes flight on the light wings of a butterfly and enjoys a wondrous sense of ‘floating’ mid-air, the beginning of the E flat unfurls like a flag - with beautifully judged rubato which changes on the repeat. The trio portion of the A flat D899 demonstrates that Lucchesini really knows how to build a dramatic musical narrative. He has a keen ear for rhythm, too; listen to the E flat’s middle section, with its lurching emphasis on the first beat, as it makes the transition back to the opening. This is piano playing which commands respect and is enchanting, too.

The impromptus D935 enjoy the same qualities: the way that, from 3:10 to 4:45 in the first F minor, Lucchesini very slowly draws back the curtain on the impromptu’s glowing heart. The opening of No. 2 is intoned with elegant simplicity. The variations of No. 3 captures both Schubert the classicist (the structure influenced by Beethoven, the language by Haydn) and Schubert the romantic (the singing beauty of every line!). Everywhere there are impeccably done transitions back into the main themes. Lucchesini has the technique to dispatch the last impromptu’s challenge with ease and with enough flair to suggest both the famous ‘march’ in F minor from the Moments musicaux and, in the coda, the F minor Ballade of Chopin.

I am making this ‘Recording of the Month’ because, now that Andrea Lucchesini has finally got a widely available CD, I want to encourage the record companies to permit him more. He can record whatever he wants and I will be listening! And if some enterprising label’s management happens to be reading this: do license his Beethoven cycle from Stradivarius. Naxos, it’s been twenty years since you released a set of the thirty-two. Perhaps you can do the honors?

And to piano lovers who do not know the name Lucchesini: here is your chance. This is intimate, rather than dramatic, Schubert, but for sheer poetry and polish it can hardly be beaten. Warm, clear sound quality completes the delightful package.

Brian Reinhart

A true keyboard poet returns from obscurity for this superb recital.