Minuetto - The Art of the Regal Dance
Alessandro Stella (piano)
rec. 2017, Abbey Rocchi Studios, Rome
KHA RECORDS KHA0017 [46:47]
I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a disc quite like this before. Firstly, the recital is devoted entirely to Minuets of one sort or another almost all, inevitably, very short and whilst there have been Adagio discs, they include a variety of contexts. And second, should the curious listener wish to search for a rationale he or she is confronted by a booklet that consists, in its entirety - in Italian, English, and French - of a short story by Guy de Maupassant called Menuet. Now I’m all for a bit of oblique cultural cross-referencing but this does strike me as a step, or dance, too far. Not that it’s unwelcome to read this brief story but what I take to be its crux, which is the melancholy definition by one of the characters, is clearly parti pris: “The minuet, monsieur, is the queen of dances, and the dance of queens, do you understand? Since there is no longer any royalty, there is no longer any minuet.”
Allowing the story to do the work of an informed booklet note leaves the listener at something of a loss. Does one, therefore, simply listen to 21 Minuets in a row? I’m afraid one does – or doesn’t, according to taste, though one needs to be something of a dance-patterned epicurean to do it.
Alessandro Stella is the pianist responsible for all this and true to form he is so self-effacing that nothing as vulgar as an artist biography or publicity photograph appears in a booklet devoted to Maupassant in its entirety. Yet it’s clear that he is a pianist with a strong technique and indeed checking online will indicate that he is an active performer with interests in Ravel and Grieg, among many.
He has certainly been recorded, at a good-sounding Steinway D, in an intimate studio acoustic without much cushioning; the resultant sound is not hard, but it does not bloom, either. Many of the pieces hover around the one-minute mark; Purcell’s A minor Minuet, say, or that extracted from the eighteenth-century Lodovico Maria Giustini’s Sonata in C minor (interesting to hear) or indeed Bach’s Minuet in G minor, BWV842. There’s jauntiness in the reading of Beethoven’s G major Minuet and non-staccato warmth to the Rameau and his reading of the less-well known Johann Krieger is charmingly phrased. So, there are intriguing composers to be encountered on a journey that you will have to undertake unguided by the documentation. It would be a shame never to encounter pianist Ricardo Viñes’ evocative melancholy in his Minuet devoted to the memory of his exact contemporary Ravel, as indeed it would in the case of the standout Dussek piece from his Sonata in F minor, Op.77. The longest work is Dvořák’s and it’s played with judicious attention to detail at a good tempo. I quite enjoyed the purely pianistic Handel and the disc ends with Barber’s pastiche Menuetto from Themes No.1.
In conclusion, this is a concept album that gorges on Minuets; notes are in the form of an essay by Maupassant; there’s a slightly cool recorded acoustic and only 47 minutes of music. Most but not all the pieces are excerpted from larger works. Is this a celebration or a memorial for the Minuet? Perhaps it depends if you sympathize with that definition of the old dancer in Maupassant’s story. Perhaps it’s both. In any case, from a marketing perspective and even with a variety of composers on board this will be, to be frank, a tough but rather intriguing sell.
Henry Purcell: Minuet in A minor, Z 649
Georg Friedrich Handel: Minuet in G minor, from Suite in B-flat major, HWV 434
Johannes Brahms: Menuetto I in G major and Menuetto II in G minor, Op. 11 (arr by Clara Schumann)
Lodovico Maria Giustini: Minuet, from Sonata in C minor, Op. 1 No. 2
Ricardo Vines: Menuet spectrale, à la mémoire de Maurice Ravel
ranz Schubert: Minuet in C-sharp minor, D 600
Isaac Albéniz: Minuetto del gallo, from Sonata No. 5, Op. 82
Johann Sebastian Bach: Minuet in G minor, BWV 842
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Variation VI in D minor, from 9 variations on a Minuet by Jean-Pierre Duport, K 573
Ludwig van Beethoven: Minuet in G major, WoO 10 No. 2
Jean-Philippe Rameau: Deuxième Menuet, from Nouvelles Suites de Pièces de Clavecin, Suite in G
François Couperin: Menuet et Double in G minor, from Pièces de Clavecin, Premier Ordre
Franz Joseph Haydn: Minuet, from Sonata in G major No. 5, Hob. XVI/11
Johann Krieger: Minuet in A minor, from Sechs musicalische Partien, Partita No. 6 in B-flat major
Jan Ladislav Dussek: Tempo di minuetto con moto, Canone alla seconda, from Sonata in F minor, Op. 77 "L'invocation"
Domenico Scarlatti: Minuet, from Sonata in D minor, K 77
Domenico Zipoli: Minuet, from Suite in D minor
Antonin Dvořák: Minuet in A-flat major, Op. 28 No. 1
Maurice Ravel: Menuet sur le nom d'Haydn
Georg Friedrich Handel: Same as above (arr by Wilhelm Kempff, from "Music des Barock und Rokoko", No. 13)
Samuel Barber: Menuetto, from Themes, No. 1