Carlo Zecchi (piano)
The Complete Cetra Recordings & selected additional 78s
APR 6024 [72:38 + 76:13]
Carlo Zecchi, who was particularly acclaimed for his piano performances of Scarlatti, Mozart and Debussy, had a rather unusual career. Born in Rome in 1903, he studied with Ferruccio Busoni, an association that was all too brief due to the latter's final illness, and later in Berlin with Artur Schnabel. He made his Italian debut in 1920, performed abroad for the first time two years later, and toured the States in 1931. His Paris debut was overshadowed by Vladimir Horowitz. His solo career came to a premature end in 1939 after a car accident. It was a truly significant event, which brought about a complete career change. He dedicated his remaining years to conducting, teaching, playing chamber music and forming a fruitful partnership with the cellist Enrico Mainardi. He died in Salzburg in 1984.
The Cetra recordings, set down between 1937-1942, form the bulk of Zecchi's recorded legacy. His car accident occurred at a midway point in 1939. I didn't detect any deterioration in his technique as a result, so was puzzled as to his early retirement from the solo concertizing stage. Predating the Cetras are a handful of Ultraphones, made in Paris 1934-1935, and two early MusTrust Recordings, the precursor of Melodya, dating from Moscow 1930, which launch his recording career. We’re told that these latter were made using a Becker piano.
A good starting point is Liszt's La leggierezza, Zecchi's calling card. A great favorite, Zecchi performed it many times and recorded it on several occasions. It showcases all the distinctive features of the Italian's art: clarity of finger work, scintillating runs, sensitive application of pedal and subtlety of nuance. He reveals himself as the superb colourist. I read somewhere that he was regarded as 'Michelangeli with warmth', a compliment indeed. He recorded the Liszt piece twice for MusTrust in 1930. The first apparently sounded rushed, so we have his second attempt here. In May 1937, he took it into the studios in Turin for Cetra. The sound is an improvement on the earlier version. The Scarlatti Sonatas, five are included, are amongst the most engaging you're ever likely to encounter. Brimming over with freshness and vitality, they compare with the very best ever committed to disc; I'm here thinking of the likes of Michelangelli, Haskil and Tipo.
The Bach group is another highlight of the set. In the Vivaldi Bach Concerto, the outer movements are energetic, with some sparkling runs in the finale. The central Adagio is ardent and chaste. In the F sharp major Prelude and Fugue, the fugue's contrapuntal strands are clearly delineated. The Bach/Reger Ich ruf' zu dir is devotional and eloquently etched, and stands proudly with the Lipatti version. The Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 is a triumph. His fellow compatriot Gioconda de Vito has the solo violin part, whilst Arrigo Tassinari takes the flute. The combination works well, with all three soloists having an underlying empathy and singularity of vision. The balance between the soloists and orchestra couldn't have been bettered.
Zecchi penetrates to the emotional heart of Schumann's Kinderszenen, and infuses the cycle with a wealth of poetic insights. Rubato is always well-judged and tastefully applied. Adequate contrast is made between the pieces that are inward and gentle, against those with a degree of exuberance. I love the simplicity captured in Fast zu Ernst and sense of wonder in Fürchtenmachen. The Chopin selection also offers some gems. The Berceuse has a pearl-like tone, and the variations are not held in check by the left-hand metric regularity but have a flexible freedom. The Barcarolle is given an aristocratic reading, with Zecchi's voicing of chords revealing a panoply of tonal hues. The Mazurkas have an elegant restraint. The First Ballade is truly epic, where poetry sits alongside impassioned virtuosity. Debussy's Poisson d'or is enveloped in a diaphanous aura.
Mark Obert-Thorn, much in keeping with his other work that I have had the pleasure of hearing has, once again, scored a triumph with these restorations. Bright and fresh, Zecchi's radiant sonorities emerge from these early shellacs with new life. What I always find helpful with each APR release that comes along are the accompanying scholarly annotations, supplying not only biography, but also detailed discussion of the recordings. Jonathan Summers is the author in this case.
This is one of the most compelling historical piano recordings that has ever come my way, and I shall be returning to it often. The recorded legacy of Carlo Zecchi will prove a valuable treasure to lovers of great pianism.
Previous review: Jonathan Woolf
CD 1 [72.38]
Cetra Recordings, Milan 1937-1942
1. GALILEI/RESPIGHI Gagliarda (from Antiche danze et arie);
2. ANONYMOUS/RESPIGHI Siciliana (from Antiche danze et arie)
3-6. SCARLATTI Sonatas in G major, Kk259; C major, Kk159;
D major, Kk96; G major, Kk523
7-9. VIVALDI/J S BACH Concerto in C Major, BWV 973;
10. J S BACH Prelude and Fugue No 13 in F sharp major, BWV 858
11. J S BACH/REGER Ich ruf’ zu dir, herr Jesu Christ, BWV 639
12-14. J S BACH Brandenburg Concerto No 5 in D major, BWV 1050
with Arrigo Tassinari (flute) and Gioconda de Vito (violin)
E.I.A.R. Symphony Orchestra conducted by Fernando Previtali
15. SCHUBERT Moment musical in A flat, Op 94 No 6
16-28. SCHUMANN Kinderszenen, Op 15
CD 2 [76.13]
1. LISZT Paganini Étude No 5 in E major, ‘La chasse’ (S141/5)
2. LISZT Paganini Étude No 4 in E major, ‘Arpeggio’ (S141/4)
3. LISZT Étude de concert No 2 in F minor, ‘La leggierezza’ (S144/2)
4. CHOPIN Waltz No 5 in A flat major, Op 42
5-7. CHOPIN Mazurkas in A minor, Op 17 No 4; C sharp minor, Op 30 No 4;
B minor, Op 33 No 4
8. CHOPIN Berceuse in D flat major, Op 57
9. CHOPIN Barcarolle in F sharp major, Op 60
10. DEBUSSY Poissons d’or (No 3 from Images, Book II)
11. TICCIATI Toccata
Ultraphone Recordings, Paris 1934/5
12. SCARLATTI Sonata in A major, Kk113
13-14. CHOPIN Études in G flat major, Op 10 No 5; F major, Op 10 No 8
15. CHOPIN Grande Polonaise in E flat major, Op 22
16. RAVEL Alborada del gracioso (No 4 from Miroirs)
MusTrust Recordings, Moscow 1930
17. LISZT Étude de concert No 2 in F minor, ‘La leggierezza’ (S144/2)
18. CHOPIN Ballade No 1 in G minor, Op 23