William Vincent WALLACE (1812-1865)
Opera Fantasies and Paraphrases
Fantaisie Brillante sur des motifs de l’opéra La Traviata de Verdi [11:33]
Souvenir de Bellini sur l’opéra La Sonnambula [6:15]
Souvenir de Bellini sur l’opéra Lucia di Lammermoor [4:52]
Nabucco de Verdi, Va Pensiero [4:37]
Variations Brillantes pour le piano à quatre mains sur le barcarolle de l’opéra L’Elisir de Amore de Donizetti [8:02]
Rigoletto de Verdi, Bella figlia dell’amore [4:30]
The Night Winds - Nocturne for piano from Wallace’s opera Lurline [4:33]
Fantaisie de salon sur des thèmes de l’opéra Don Pasquale [6:01]
Grande Fantaisie sur des thèmes de l’opéra Maritana [13:10]
Grande Duo pour deux pianos sur l’opéra d’Halévy L’éclair [14:41]
Rosemary Tuck and Richard Bonynge (pianos)
rec. Forde Abbey, Chard, Somerset, UK, 11 October 2009
NAXOS 8.572774 [78:15] 

Over the last decade, Australian pianist, Rosemary Tuck, has formed a comfortable liaison with this composer. Two previous piano discs on Cala focused on Celtic folk songs and fantasies arranged by Wallace (Cala CACD88042) and original Wallace compositions composed in London and America (Cala CACD88044 - see review). Next year will be Wallace’s bi-centenary and so the present Wallace release is timely.

This disc focuses on arrangements Wallace wrote for the operas that reached American shores whilst he was resident there in the 1850s.
Since Wallace himself was a competent virtuoso pianist (as well as violinist) he developed a flamboyant style that is well-captured in Rosemary Tuck’s accomplished playing. Assertive and energetic readings of forte passages are nicely contrasted with delicate and crisp articulation of fine detail in pianissimo sections. Her handling of intricate filigree and dynamics is a delight to the ear. Wallace would have included these pieces to demonstrate virtuoso keyboard skills during his recitals whilst touring in America.
The composer’s skill at interweaving motifs of well-known operas produces enjoyable results: his arrangements with decoration make engaging listening. The five fantasies to me are superb: not only do they radiate colourful texture but include those melodies by which most of us would have chosen to represent the operas concerned. The relaxed, yet majestic, L’Elisir d’Amore is sumptuous and has a particularly balletic elegance in this interpretation. It is good to see that Rosemary Tuck has joined forces with Richard Bonynge, perhaps the world’s most notable authority on Wallace the composer. They clearly work ideally as a team.
An interesting piece is the Night Winds from Wallace’s opera Lurline (Naxos 8.660293-94 - see review), as it was published in sheet-music form fifteen years before the opera was heard by the public. Perhaps the least inventive is the Nabucco Hebrew Slaves piece: it is a straightforward transcription lacking the engaging flamboyance of the other pieces. A rarity is hearing something from Halévy’s L’éclair, a lovely arrangement with variations that combines a romantic dreamy innocence with overtones of pathos.
The pianos are placed at a medium distance where intricate detail and attack is still clear and yet is balanced by a generous bloom and warmth of tone provided by the reverberation. This is particularly noticed during the opening section of the Fantaisie de Salon sur l’opéra La Sonnambula (tr 3) and is a credit to Phil Rowlands’ technique.
Peter Jaggard’s notes in English give us interesting background and put the pieces in useful context. It is interesting to find that the four-handed versions were written principally for his second wife who would have joined him in his engagements.
Raymond J Walker 

Engaging listening.