Giuseppe MARTUCCI (1856-1909)
Notturno, for piano and orchestra, op.70 no.1 bis (1891) [6:45]
Piano Concerto no.2 in B flat minor, op.66 (1884-5) [43:40]
Tema e Variazioni, for solo piano op.58 (1882) [12:33]
Notturno, for solo piano, op.70 no.1 (1888) [6:45]
Pietro Massa (piano)
Neubrandenburger Philharmonie/Stefan Malzew
rec. Konzertkirche Neubrandenburg, 11 November 2009 (live); DLR Studio, Neubrandenburg, 25 January 2010 (solo pieces). DDD

The title given to this CD, 'Piano Rarities', is both superfluous and a little misleading. This is not the first recording of Giuseppe Martucci's Second Piano Concerto: in fact it appeared fairly recently on a Naxos release, played by another lesser-known Italian pianist, Gesualdo Coggi - see review. Interestingly, that reviewer was "shocked" at the "paucity of the material" and goes on to inveigh against almost every other aspect of this work, rounding off with the remark that he "cannot imagine why Naxos should have chosen to record this music". Naxos did do so, however, and on a couple of other of their discs can also be found the orchestrated version of both the Notturno and the Theme and Variations - see this much more sympathetic review. Additionally, both Martucci Piano Concertos can be found in an earlier 4-disc Brilliant Classics set, played by Francesco Caramielo (93439), and the Notturno has occasionally cropped up as a filler elsewhere.

Opinions on music are what they are - could it have been that the modest orchestra, conductor or pianist hired by Naxos were more to blame than Martucci for any shock suffered, perhaps? - but the Second Piano Concerto is a massive, impressive work of genuine late-Romantic boldness and panache, with plenty of memorable material expertly crafted into a widely appealing whole. Brahms's throbbing First Piano Concerto looms large in this work - in the first movement, in fact, there are several paraphrases, deliberate or otherwise.

Pietro Massa peers earnestly out from the CD cover, as if to indicate that he has what it takes to bring off a work of this magnitude - and he has. Not only the considerable, almost Busonian virtuosity required, but the sheer stamina to come out in one piece at the other end of a work that is almost as long as Brahms's own Second. The Neubrandenburg Philharmonic has a decent sound for an ensemble based in such a relatively small locality, and the odd quavered quaver apart, they are deftly marshalled by Stefan Malzew.

After the exertions of the Concerto the listener is invited to wind down with two works by Martucci for solo piano, the relatively low-key but nevertheless virtuosic Theme and Variations, and the original version of the Notturno that begins the programme.

Sound quality is pretty good, if not always 'Crystal' clear. The CD states that the recording took place in Neubrandenburg's 'Concert Church', presumably referring to the lovely Gothic Marienkirche there. There is some occasional traffic rumble in evidence, but none of the coughing and rustling usually associated with live recordings.

The booklet is quadrilingual, which means the notes are actually slimmer than they first appear. The translation into English from the original - rather pleonastic - German has been done by...a German speaker! In other words, expect plenty of unidiomatic language, compounded by several typos. Thus: "igneous piano-recitative" ('igneous' instead of 'heated'), "started to rehears", "concert" instead of 'concerto', "the vibe and expressions" for 'the range of mood and expression', "further CDs will be already for release", and so on. Another label devaluing their product to save a few euros. Pietro Massa's biography also pre-dates the CD by at least two years, referring to 'future' projects that have already happened - not least this Martucci disc!

The timing is fairly generous, however, and overall this must count as a worthy disc likely to be enjoyed by anyone keen on Romantic piano concertos.

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A worthy disc likely to be enjoyed by anyone keen on Romantic piano concertos.