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Francesco CILEA (1866-1950)
Complete Piano Music
Pier Paolo Vincenzi (piano), Marco Gaggini (piano)
rec. 2016, BartokStudio, Bernareggio (M8), Italy
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 95318 [2 CDs: 142:22]

The Italian composer Francesco Cilea is of the verismo operatic tradition. His operas Adriana Lecouvreur and L’Arlesiana have been multiply recorded and arias have been excerpted for recitals by singers seeking to make a rite of passage. I see that, quite apart from five operas, there are songs, a cello sonata and even a symphonic poem written in honour of Verdi. Brilliant Classics and pianists Pier Paolo Vincenzi and Marco Gaggini have taken pains over introducing Cilea's piano music. Vincenzi carries all but six of the tracks alone. He has clearly invested much in bringing this repertoire out into the light for the benefit of the inveterate explorer and the committedly curious. Gaggini joins Vincenzi for the four hands pieces.

No one lays claim to any towering achievements amid these 52 pieces. They are miniatures that are notably strong on polished sentimental charm and generally in an idiom related to Chopin and Grieg. Try the trilling sun-dappled Canto del mattino if you look for proof. The urbane La petite coquette is another smiling and gentle example. The Berceuse is a moonlit, slowly-cradled effusion that contrasts with the bluff bell-chimes of the Seconda Danza and the Barzelletta. Loin dans la mer contentedly trails its finger through warm blue Mediterranean waters. The opening track of CD 1, Melodia, bears an uncanny resemblance to a phrase from Amy Woodforde-Finden's lachrymose song Pale hands I loved beside the Shalimar. The Tre Pezzi, Op. 43 and the Due Pezzi at the start of CD 2 are a cut above. These rise beyond the pot-boiler production-line. They are sophisticated impressionistic atmosphere pieces although the second of the Due Pezzi (Festa silana) takes one step backwards and downwards.

The six pieces from the 1880s (Scherzo, Scherzando, Danza calabrese, Impromptu, Mazurka, Preludio, Vespero) show Cilea backsliding toward what may well have been publisher-pleasers for the mass market. I except Vespero from this verdict. The three re-workings of previous pieces (trs. 14-16) betray greater originality. Of the six works for piano four hands the frictionless Tchaikovskian romance of Idillio, Chansonnette and Amour joyeux is memorable. Sentiment potique has a title that is the clearest and most candid of signs of a slow-tempo salon charmer. The few pieces here from the 1940s suggest that Cilea was not going to make any radical change to the inclinations and garb that ruled the day in his late 19th century.

Seekers after blood and thunder already brought up on the Cilea operas will not find more of the same here. This is the unassuming province of the salon - skilled and affecting though occasionally rising above charm to something more striking and resilient.

These two discs, setting out what is declared to be the composer's complete piano music, are housed in a handy single-width case. There's a booklet listing all the usual details together with a three and a half page essay by Vincenzi. It's in both English and Italian with the English translation by Kate Singleton.

Cilea's kindly and serviceable piano legacy is presented with every sign of fidelity and honour. A certain few works stand out for the best of reasons in this generally nice but unambitious company.

Rob Barnett

CD 1 [72:12]
Tre piccoli pezzi (1888)
Chanson du rouet, Op. 4
Canto del mattino, Op. 5
La petite coquette – Air de danse, Op. 9
C’est toi que j’aime, Op. 10 (Impromptu la Mazurka, 1890)
Aria campestre
Flatterie, Op. 11
Badinage, Op. 15
Berceuse, Op. 20
Notturno, Op. 22
Danza No. 2 for piano
Trois petits morceaux, Op. 28
Tre pezzi, Op. 29
Gocce di rugiada, Op. 33
Au village, Op. 34
A la mazurka, Op. 35
Valzer, Op. 36
Suite (Vecchio stile), Op. 42
Foglio d'album, op. 41
Fuga reale

CD 2 [70:10]
Tre Pezzi, Op. 43
Due Pezzi
Scherzo for Piano (1883)
Scherzando for Piano (1885)
Danza calabrese (1884)
Impromptu (1885)
Mazurka (1886)
Preludio (1886)
Vespero - Melodia (1887)
Foglio d'album, op. 41

Reworkings of Previous Works
Serenata a dispetto

Four Hands
Untitled (for four hands) in A major
Chansonnette (for four hands), Op. 31
Sentiment pötique per pianoforte a quattro mani (1895)
Amour joyeux (for four hands), Op. 37

Transcriptions for Four Hands
Idillio (from suite for orch 1887)
Alla gavotte (from suite for orch 1887)



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