Aldo Ciccolini: The Cascavelle Golden Years

CD 1 [72:19]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Faschingsschwank aus Wien, Op. 26 (1839-40) 21:30]
Waldszenen, Op. 82 (1848-49) [21:34]
Grande sonata in F minor (Concert sans orchestre), Op. 14 (1835-36) [28:15]
CD 2 [52:18]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Nocturnes Nos. 1-10 [52:18]
CD 3 [61:49]
Nocturnes 11-21 [61:49]
CD 4 [61:25]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Lyric Pieces I (8), Op. 12 (1867) [11:17]
Lyric Pieces II (8), Op. 38 (1883) [17:37]
Lyric Pieces III (6), Op. 43 (1886) [13:26]
Lyric Pieces IV (7), Op. 47 (1887) [18:09]
CD 5 [62:35]
Lyric Pieces V (6), Op. 54 (1891) [22:24]
Lyric Pieces VI (6), Op. 57 (1893) [25:10]
Lyric Pieces VII (6), Op. 62 (1895) [14:53]
CD 6 [59:06]
Lyric Pieces VIII (6), Op. 65 (1896) [21:24]
Lyric Pieces IX (6), Op. 68 (1899) [16:23]
Lyric Pieces X (7), Op. 71 (1901) [20:14]
Aldo Ciccolini (piano)
rec. 2002-04, Paris
CASCAVELLE VEL 3141 [6 CDs: 72:19 + 52:18 + 61:49 + 61:25 + 62:35 + 59:06].

Aldo Ciccolini made a series of finely recorded recitals for Cascavelle in the period between 2002 and 2004. This collection of six CDs contains the works of three composers; Schumann, Chopin and Grieg. Itís invariably a lopsided box, given that half the contents is given over to Griegís lovely Lyric Pieces, two to Chopinís Nocturnes and one to Schumann. But if your interest is in the pianist, I daresay you wonít be swayed by such a consideration, especially if youíve not come across the performances before.

Ciccolini has a lovely, warm touch and heís a natural for Chopin, but heís an inconsistent one on the basis of his performances of the Nocturnes. Time and again he makes the most gorgeous sounds, his articulation ranging from feathery insinuation to powerful extroversion. But the effect is undone too often by too measured and horizontal a response. His rubati too can cloud the direction of the music, as in the case of Op.9/2. And despite the humorous turns of phrase, and the almost coquettish appeal of Op.9/3 once again his sense of the musicís direction is imperfectly realised. This is notably the case in his unconvincing traversal of Op.27/2. His C minor Op.48/1 is curiously passionless, and Op.72/1 sounds like heís going through the motions. The C sharp minor, op. posth, however, is very much better. Indeed a number of the Nocturnes are decidedly attractive, marrying tonal beauty with a better sense of line than he displays elsewhere.

His Schumann focuses on just three works. Faschingsschwank aus Wien is a punchy realisation, even at points pugnacious in its drama. But the performance succeeds by virtue of its vivacity even whilst stinting in some digital detailing. Waldszenen is not so good. Next to Kempff or Richter, Ciccolini reverts to the extrovert thrust that sometimes bedevils Faschingsschwank and the result is a reading thatís rather prosaic and externalised. Much better is the big Grande sonata in F minor (Concert sans orchestre), where he marries daredevil drive with the kind of passionate intensity that sometimes eludes him in the Chopin Nocturnes. This is a big, boned, no-nonsense and very persuasive account indeed.

Which leaves us with Griegís Lyric Pieces - all ten volumes of them. This in itself is valuable, because traversals of the whole set are not exactly common. And Ciccolini plays them with great imagination and insight and with once more a beautiful, fully round, warm tone. Doubtless one could quibble in the detailing. I happen to find The Lonely Wanderer (Op .43, Volume III) rather hard, admirably direct, itís true, but tonally and textually too brash. And his Feuille díalbum is rather overt and lacking in a touch of sympathy Ė so too Papillon, the first of the set. In fact Iím a bit disappointed by his Op.43 in general. Maybe too he could be more startlingly crystalline in Ruisselet, where the brook is certainly more intoxicating in Katya Apekishevaís performance on Quartz. Nor would I trade Gilelsís famous recording, where in something like the Op.38 Berceuse we find the acme of imagination. Nevertheless there is a huge amount to admire in Ciccoliniís performances and Iíve only really concentrated on pieces with which I was less happy. Given that the Lyric Pieces occupy three CDs one can tell how admirable Ciccoliniís performances are as a whole.

These discs have been released individually in the past, but this boxed set cements them handily.

Jonathan Woolf

Ciccolini - a lovely, warm touch, the most gorgeous sounds, articulation ranging from feathery insinuation to powerful extroversion.