Giovanni PAISIELLO (1740-1816)

Complete Piano Concertos
Harpsichord (Piano) Concerto no.1 in C (c.17813) [23:18]
Piano Concerto no.3 in A (?1788) [12:25]
Piano Concerto no.4 in G minor (?1788) [25:27]
Piano Concerto no.7 in A (?1788) [11:11]
Harpsichord (Piano) Concerto no.2 in F (c.17813) [18:57]
Piano Concerto no.5 in D (?1788) [12:30]
Piano Concerto no.6 in B flat (?1788) [15:33]
Piano Concerto no.8 in F (?1788) [27:12]
Pietro Spada (pianoforte)
Orchestra da Camera di Santa Cecilia
rec. Rome, 8-14 March 1992. DDD
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94224 [73:24 + 75:32]

This well-filled double-disc set was first released in 1994 and re-issued a decade later by the German Arts label. Arts are in fact still selling the originals. Aside from the new cover picture, this repackaging by Brilliant provides new notes by Malcolm MacDonald.

Surprisingly perhaps, especially to those who know Paisiello only as a composer of operatic or sacred music, this is not the sole recording of all eight concertos, though the original Arts release was the first. It was soon followed by Mariaclara Monetti and the English Chamber Orchestra on ASV (229) in 1996. Also, Naxos have to date made the first five Concertos available, featuring Italian pianist Francesco Nicolosi with the Campania Chamber Orchestra (review) and Collegium Philarmonicum (review). Apart from these, however, there are just one or two insignificant recordings of individual works.

Soloist Pietro Spada has played an important role in the re-discovery of Paisiello's keyboard concertos - not strictly piano: the first two were written specifically for harpsichord, the rest for fortepiano - that goes beyond these trailblazing performances. For one thing, most of them were published by him in the late 1970s. For another, he wrote cadenzas for all but two of the works, so well-suited that they were used again by Monetti for her ASV set.

It would be wrong to exaggerate the significance of Paisiello's Concertos. As a rule of thumb, the higher the Concerto number, the better Paisiello's writing, due in part, no doubt, to his exposure to his friend Mozart's Piano Concerto in G, K453 in 1784, which must have opened his eyes and ears to possibilities he had not imagined previously. That makes CD 2 definitely the more interesting, with Concertos nos. 5, 6 and 8 constituting Paisiello's best writing, along with the sole minor key work, no.4 from CD 1.

On the whole, however, though thoroughly melodious and ideationally interesting enough to burke ennui in the listener, nothing much leaps off the page as profound or stunningly imaginative, although Concerto no.8 at least comes close to genuine, memorable originality. The works certainly never rise to the artistic heights of Mozart and Haydn, with many of whose keyboard concertos they are contemporaneous. Yet that should not really be a surprise: the first two were composed while Paisiello was at the royal court in St Petersburg, and dedicated to two ladies of the gentry. The remaining six were commissioned by the Princess of Parma: in other words, Paisiello sensibly made them sufficiently utilitarian to render them acceptable and accessible to the competent amateurs paying his fees.

The Orchestra da Camera di Santa Cecilia and Pietro Spada give a reasonable, technically sound account of the Concertos, though they seem underwhelmed by Paisiello's music: Francesco Nicolosi on Naxos offers a little more excitement. Malcolm MacDonald's booklet notes are okay, though half the space they take up is concerned with Paisiello's role as an opera composer, barely relevant to these Concertos. MacDonald also all but contradicts himself at one point: after stating that Paisiello's "eight keyboard concertos demonstrate that he must have been a performer of outstanding gifts" he says a page later, not altogether elegantly, that Paisiello was "evidently a fine keyboard player, but it is not clear whether his eight keyboard concertos were written with himself in mind as soloist."

Whether Brilliant or Arts are responsible, there is more than a suspicion of added reverberation at the ends of movements - in fact, the degree is faintly ludicrous - but otherwise sound is reasonably good, though the strings sometimes come across a bit muddy. The recording can be characterised as intimate, which is apt, but the piano is possibly a little too prominent in its placement. The booklet gives the wrong recording year for CD 2 - not 1989, but 1992, recorded at the same time as the first CD, at least according to Arts' original discs.

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Thoroughly melodious and interesting but neither profound nor stunningly imaginative.