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Guido Alberto FANO (1875-1961)
Sonata in E major (1895-1899) [32:55]
Quattro Fantasie (1896) [21:37]
Pietro De Maria (piano)
rec. live, 9 June 2013, Teatro La Fenice, Sale Apollinee, Italy

I suspect that not many people outside Italy will be familiar with the Padua-born composer Guido Alberto Fano. After some initial piano studies, at the age of nineteen he enrolled at Giuseppe Martucci’s school in Bologna, where he became a favourite pupil, graduating in composition with flying colours in 1897. This prestigious award launched a four-pronged career as concert pianist, composer, teacher and conductor. At the turn of the century he picked up some prizes for his compositions, piquing interest from none other than Richard Strauss. From 1905 until 1938 he held a succession of conservatory posts in Parma, Naples, Palermo and Milan. 1938 was to be a fateful year, when Italian Fascist racial laws resulted in him losing his job. He and his family spent the duration of the war seeking refuge in religious institutions at Fossombrone and Assisi. In 1945 he returned to Milan, where he spent the rest of his life. His compositional oeuvre consists of two operas Astrea (1903), Juturna (1912), symphonic works, chamber and piano music and songs.

The two piano works here date from the late 1890s. The Sonata in E was written between 1895 and 1899, but had to wait until 1920 for publication by Ricordi. It certainly won the acclaim of that other Italian composer/pianist Ferruccio Busoni, who considered it one of Fano’s ‘outstanding works’. It’s set in four movements. The first is generous in melody and reveals an expert skill in counterpoint. Richly romantic, seductive lyricism alternates with more forceful and dramatic moments. The contrasting slow movement has an intense intimacy, with dark and sombre underpinnings. The composer appears to be recalling the past with wistfulness and nostalgia. De Maria invests the music with eloquence and tenderness. There follows a virtuosic Presto, passionately intense and impetuous. A contrasting middle section is more ruminative. I find the finale rather diffuse, as the composer explores a range of episodes of differing mood. De Maria irons out the complexities, instinctively negotiating the ebb and flow of the narrative and bringing to it structure and cohesion.

The Quattro Fantasie were composed in 1896 and dedicated to Cesare Pollini, one of Fano’s early piano teachers in Padua. The four pieces display invention and flair as well as exhibiting a natural melodic gift. Listening to these short works, I sense Brahms lurking in the shadows, with titles for three of them culled from his late piano pieces. Was this intentional? We start with Intermezzo ‘Sogno, sei bello!’ a portrayal of a dreamy, sunlit landscape. Pagina d’album has a hymn-like quality, serene and calm. Next comes Intermezzo ‘….est quaedam flere voluptas…’, serious and pensive. It’s title is a Latin quote from Ovid ‘there is pleasure in weeping’. Capriccio completes the set, declamatory and virtuosic. The middle section, though less impassioned, has an urgency. De Maria plays convincingly and with commanding authority.

This attractive recording has been released under the auspices of the Archivio Musicale Guido Alberto Fano by Vitale Fano, who has produced this and written the informative booklet notes. The archive was founded in 2003 to promote and disseminate the work of the composer. Each year it holds chamber music concerts at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice. De Maria’s recital, from which this recording is taken, was part of the tenth anniversary celebrations.

Last year I reviewed this pianist’s impressive traversals of both books of J.S Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier (review) ~ (review). The same compelling qualities of technical mastery, intelligence and formidable musicianship inform this latest offering.

Stephen Greenbank



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