Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Sonatas, Overtures and Waltzes for Piano
Sinfonia in D 'La Partenza' [5:15]
Sinfonia in A [4:40]
Sinfonia in D [5:34]
Sinfonia in C [4:19]
Sinfonia in C [5:47]
Sinfonia in D [4:56]
Un Capriccio in Sinfonia in E [5:03]
Adagio and Allegro in G [5:44]
Waltz in C [3:11]
Waltz in C [3:51]
Waltz in A [4:29]
Waltz in A [2:23]
*Sonata in D [15:45]
*Waltz in G [3:49]
*Sonata in D [3:48]
*Sonata in G [4:28]
*Sonata a Quattro Sanfe [3:55]
*La Solita Suonata in F [4:44]
*Sonata in C [5:34]
*Marcia Lugubre in F minor [5:00]
*Sonata in B flat [3:40]
*Sonata in C [5:47]
Elisabetta Dessì (piano)
*Franco Calabretto, Eddi de Nadai (piano four hands)
rec. IN Studio, Treviso, Italy, 8-12 March 1996; 18-22 February 1993*. DDD
NEWTON CLASSICS 8802107 [55:15 + 61:21]

This Newton Classics release is a reissue, repackaged with new notes, of two CDs that originally appeared separately in the 1990s on the Italian label Rivo Alto.
Even those intimately familiar with Donizetti's famous bel canto operas may not be aware that he had an older brother Giuseppe, who was also a composer. Nor, more germanely, that Gaetano wrote a huge amount of music that was not operatic: symphonies, string quartets, cantatas, lieder, piano pieces and sundry other works. Even the Donizetti Society appears not to realise this, as their index of his works gives only the operas! Some of this other music has been recorded, but surprisingly little for a composer of Donizetti's stature.
As far as piano music was concerned, Donizetti wrote much of it to take advantage of the burgeoning popularity of the new pianoforte; by the time of his death it had established itself as the focal point of the middle-class household and amateur music-making. Rossini's own Sins of Old Age are reasonably familiar to modern audiences, but the closest most pianophiles will likely come to Donizetti on the piano is through Liszt's brilliant fantasies on themes from some of his operas - as in this quite recent Naxos recording.
The seven Sinfonias on CD 1 are not the piano reductions of actual opera overtures they may at first glance seem to be, but they could certainly have been employed as such. Dating probably from the mid- or late-1810s, they all have the typical slow introduction - often with some 'ta-dah!' chords for effect - followed by a lively development and dénouement. There is some terrifically exciting piano playing here from Elisabetta Dessì. The four Waltzes that follow are more fairly described as salon pieces, but despite their brevity Donizetti still manages to coax a few good tunes out of them, any of which would slip seamlessly into any of his operas. The track listing numbers some of the Sinfonias and Waltzes, but without indicating on what basis. New Grove does number one or two pieces, but not the same ones.
The second CD contains a selection of Donizetti's works for four hands. The Sonatas are thought to date from around the same time or slightly later than the Sinfonias. These too are clearly for domestic use, the second pair of hands more likely taking some of the workload rather than doubling it - which is not to detract from the attractiveness of the music or indeed the teamwork in this recording between Franco Calabretto and Eddi de Nadai, the latter better known these days as an opera conductor. The Sonatas too are littered with operatic devices that give the pieces a sense of drama, at least as experienced in bel canto. In his notes, pianist/critic Jed Distler describes the A major Sonata, for example, as lacking only "words, a chorus, orchestra and scenery; it sounds like a first-act finale."
On the evidence of these discs, Donizetti was a pianist with an intelligent understanding of idiom, imbuing his works with a sense of spaciousness, approachability and variety. When coupled with his irrepressible ability to conjure catchy melodies out of thin air, and the occasional something different - the uncheery Marcia Lugubre, the quirky, ironically-titled Solita Suonata ('Usual Sonata') and the full-blown, three-movement Classical Sonata in D that opens the second disc - the result is a double CD of great geniality that should appeal to music-lovers of all persuasions.
Sound quality is good, especially taking account of the age of these recordings. The new English-German-French booklet notes give an appreciative, fairly detailed account of the music. As is often the case in these Newton re-releases, performer biographies are rather brazenly conspicuous by their total absence.

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A double CD of great geniality that should appeal to music-lovers of all persuasions.