Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Piano Sonata no.7 in B flat op.82 (1939-42) [17:46]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Rhapsodie Espagnole S.254 (1863) [13:30]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Piano Sonata in E minor Hob. XVI:34 (1784) [13:42]
Alexander SKRIABIN (1872-1915)
Piano Sonata no.1 in F minor op.6 (1892) [23:20]
Vanessa Benelli Mosell (piano)
rec. Acireale, Sicily, 26-28 November 2008. DDD
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94209 [68:20]

This first CD by Italian pianist Vanessa Benelli Mosell is subtitled 'Virtuoso Piano Music' - needlessly, perhaps, but truthfully. None of the works played here is exactly under-recorded, but for a debut recording this is certainly an impressive programme in every respect.

According to the Brilliant Classics blurb, Pascal Rogé has called Benelli Mosell "the most natural musical talent I have encountered in my entire life as a musician and teacher", and shortly before his death Karlheinz Stockhausen said she "has the power to let people appreciate my music". It has been known for 'older gentlemen' to get carried away when spending time in the company of young women, especially sultry, blonde, voluptuous Italian ones with a prodigious artistic talent - far better therefore to let the musicianship speak for itself.

That means letting these four great works speak for themselves - which Benelli Mosell does indeed do. Perhaps her youth prevents her from imposing a strong personality on the music, but in an online interview in Italian she implies that she understands - from her study with Stockhausen of his Klavierstücke - that the pianist's role is to communicate the composer's ideas to audiences; in other words, performers should not make the music about themselves. Mitsuko Uchida has devoted herself to this cause, and Benelli Mosell may well be following a similar path. She is so obviously photogenic that unscrupulous agents will doubtless try to persuade her to 'do a Lang Lang', and thereby relegate composers of genius to footnotes - but so far, so good. On Brilliant at least she seems in safe hands.

In any case, to open a debut recording with Prokofiev's sarcastic, fiendish Seventh Sonata is a true baptism of fire. Yet Benelli Mosell seems to revel in the densely chromatic, often virtually atonal tumult of much of this Stalin-Award-winning, viciously anti-Stalinist work. To follow that with Liszt's phenomenally virtuosic Rhapsodie Espagnole would be artistic suicide for mere mortals, but Benelli Mosell's arms and fingers, presumably after a good rest, are more than willing, and able, to take on the relentless onslaught of gorgeous notes, and she does so with great panache.

After these two works, a keyboard sonata by Joseph Haydn might seem like a stroll in the park, but not so when the sonata in question is the no.53 in E minor, Hob. XVI/34, in which Haydn's poetic restlessness and harmonic ambiguities surprisingly begin to resemble Beethoven. Though Haydn himself would probably have been astounded by Liszt's and Prokofiev's super-human pianism, this Sonata of his is nevertheless liberally scattered with virtuosic demands on top of the specialist skills required by Classical form. Benelli Mosell takes the opening Presto a little on the sub-presto side, but she makes up for it in the Vivace molto finale. The Adagio middle movement is a well-placed balm in this otherwise fairly hectic programme.

From its opening bar, Skriabin's First Sonata, op.6 drops the pianist right back into the turbulence and drama of the early 20th century - yet amazingly, Skriabin's visionary work was written with almost a decade still left of the 19th. Benelli Mosell's account of both the bleak Adagio and the desperately sad, funereal last movement is very moving: full of emotion and insight beyond her years.

The recording is good, although the Steinway piano sounds as if it has seen better days, and the microphones are close enough to pick up sometimes too much of the noise of the piano action. Acireale is famous for its spectacular location at the foot of Etna, its carnival and its churches. The liner-notes do not specify the exact location of the recording, but the lack of reverberation suggests that Brilliant preferred the technical reliability of a studio.

For pianophiles to be in a position to determine whether or not Pascal Rogé really was hamming it up, much more evidence will be needed, and on the strength of this disc can be eagerly anticipated. Meanwhile, for anyone looking for an introduction not only to Benelli Mosell's indisputable gifts, but to the piano music of Liszt, Prokofiev or Skriabin, this is a good, neutral place to start.

Byzantion
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk

For a debut recording this is certainly impressive in every respect.