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Antonio BAZZINI (1818-1897)
Complete Opera Transcriptions
Anca Vasile Caraman (violin)
Alessandro Trebeschi (piano)
rec. Bartok Studio, Bernareggio, Italy, 2017
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 95674 [5 CDs: 307:06]

March 2018 saw the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Italian violinist, composer and teacher, Antonio Bazzini, a composer primarily known for his compositions for violin, the instrument he himself excelled on, and on which he was regarded as a leading and dazzling virtuoso of his day. He is also held in high regard as a teacher of many Italy’s greatest composers of the late nineteenth century including Pietro Mascagni and Giacomo Puccini. Whilst he was also asked by Verdi to contribute to the Messa per Rossini, composing the Dies Irae section. I have another recording of his violin music; the one that I have is the one that concentrates on his own music, with the Violin Sonata in E minor performed by Luigi Alberto Bianchi and Aldo Orvieto (DM8018) being a highlight. This present set is. I believe, unrivalled in that it is the first to offer the complete opera transcriptions in a single release.

Bel Canto opera is just not my thing; however, transcriptions and paraphrases are, I already have a number of discs that offer arrangements of famous sections from operas in purely instrumental versions, and not just from nineteenth century works. You could say that Antonio Bazzini was following a well-trodden path with one difference, whereas a lot of these transcriptions were meant for the highly skilled and educated amateur performer, Bazzini primarily composed these pieces in order to tout his skill as a virtuoso violinist and would often include the pieces in his own recitals when he would play his take on the popular music of the day.

Where else to start than with Casta Diva, an eight-minute masterpiece based upon one of Bellini’s best known arias. Right away it is clear that the original music is key to Bazzini’s arrangement with the piano taking the part of the orchestra while the violin assumes the vocal line. The arrangement is quite sympathetic to the original with the clarity of the violin following the purity of the vocal line without to much in the way of virtuosic fireworks; yes there are times when he drifts from the original tune, but not to far away. Indeed, Bazzini seems to have had a real affinity for the music of Bellini with two of the five discs being devoted to the older composer’s music, this not only includes his variations on I Capuleti e i Montecchi, Bazzini’s Opus 1, but also some wonderful music such as his Fantasia on La straniera on disc one, but especially his pieces that weave around thematic material taken from La Sonnambula on disc two. Here Bazzini’s writing is inspired, especially in the Fantasie sur La Sonnambula.

Bazzini had met Donizetti in 1840 and the two men became friends, this led to Bazzini composing a number of pieces based on the operas of his new friend, which can be found on disc three. These open with his his Fantasia on Lucia di Lammermoor, which develops a number of themes from the opera into a quite virtuosic piece with its shifts in tempo and dramatic intensity. In comparison, his variations on La figlia del reggimento pick up on the opera's more comic elements to produce a more light hearted, yet still at times spectacular piece. The disc ends with the Fantaisie sur des motifs d'Anna Bolena, here the scene is set with a dramatic flourish on the piano before the soaring violin enters leading to more dramatic and taxing writing for both instruments.

Disc four opens with a Fantaisie on Mazzucato’s Esmeralda, which although the composer's most successful opera it does not seem to feature in the catalogues. Alberto Mazzucato (1813-1877) composed eight operas before all but giving up composing to become an educator in 1843. This Fantaisie is filled with some attractive thematic material, akin to Offenbach at times, and contains some virtuosic writing and stratospheric playing. It is followed by three pieces based upon operas by Verdi, this despite, as the booklet notes inform us, that Bazzini had “taken a cold attitude towards the young Verdi”. Of the three, his Fantasia su motivi della Traviata is the best, perhaps because it was this opera along with Il trovatore that first won him over, but there seems to be a real affinity here.

The final disc opens with Bazzini’s only reworking of a non-Italian composer, Carl Maria von Weber, with his transcription of the finale of Act II of Oberon opening quite quietly. The notes talk of this being amore “symphonic” work than normal although there are still some quite demanding passages for the violinist to conquer as well as some demanding piano writing. The final works of this set are the three Fantasies based upon Giovanni Pacini’s 1840 opera Saffo. These were composed whilst Bazzini was still a young man working for the Casa Ricordi publishing house as an adapter. Whilst the first two are quite charming adaptations, it is the third that is the finest, with its dramatic writing and more varied and demanding structure, it is the most virtuosic of the three.

The playing of Anca Vasile Caraman and Alessandro Trebeschi is very good, and although I would have preferred a little smoother violin performance on a couple of occasions, there is much to enjoy in their recital. There is, however, a real sense of enjoyment in their performance, especially in the way that they bring out the differing characters of the operas, their composers and that of Bazzini himself. As a duo they shape the musical phrasing very well between the differing and contrasting sections of each piece with ease and display just how accomplished Bazzini was in this genre. The notes, although brief, are very good, whilst the recorded sound is helped by a pleasant acoustic.

Stuart Sillitoe

Disc 1 [65:09]
Transcriptions et Paraphrases (6), Op. 17
No. 1. Casta Diva (Norma) [7:59]
No. 6. Quartet (I Puritani) [10:23]
Adagio, Variazione e Finale sopra un tema di Bellini (I Capuleti e i Montecchi) [16:30]
Souvenir de Beatrice di Tenda, Op. 11 [16:11]
Fantasia, Op. 40 (La straniera) [14:02]
Disc 2 [65:16]
Variations brillantes et Finale sur un theme de La Sonnambula, Op. 3 [15:37]
Souvenir de La Sonnambula, Op. 19 [18:14]
Fantaisie sur La Sonnanbula No. 2, Op. 26 [16:13]
Fantaisie de Concert (Il Pirata) Op. 27 [15:08]
Disc 3 [58:41]
Fantaisie dramatique sur l'air final de Lucia di Lammermoor, Op. 10 [13:46]
Transcriptions et Paraphrases (6), Op. 17
No. 2. Variations brillantes sur plusieurs motifs (La figlia del reggimento) [9:44]
No. 3. Scène et romance (Lucrezia Borgia) [11:05]
No. 4. Fantaisie sur la romance et un choeur (La favorita) [9:02]
Fantaisie sur des motifs d'Anna Bolena, Op. 24 [15:00]
Disc 4 [61:30]
Mazzucato and Verdi
Fantaisie, sur plusieurs themes de l'opera Esmerelda (Mazzucato) Op. 8 [15:01]
Fantasia su motivi della Traviata, Op. 50 [15:55]
Souvenir d'Attila [16:15]
Fantasia su temi tratti da I Masnadieri [14:16]
Disc 5 [53:40]
Weber and Pacini
Transcriptions et Paraphrases (6), Op. 17 [7:20]
No. 5. Act 2: Finale of Oberon [7:20]
Fantasie (3) sopra motivi della Saffo di Pacini
No. 1. [11:34]
No. 2. [14:59]
No. 3. [19:43]

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