Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Pietro Scarpini (piano)
rec. 1953-1975, various locations
RHINE CLASSICS RH-014 [65:28 + 72:30]
Despite his distinguished pianistic achievements, Pietro Scarpini's star never shone as brightly as those of others. He could be accused of hiding his light under a bushel. Why? He shunned commercial recordings but, thankfully, meticulously collected tapes and home recordings of his concerts and radio broadcasts. It’s these that Rhine Classics have carefully restored and remastered in 24bit 96KHz sound. I have to say that, for their age and provenance, the results are impressive. This collection of Mozart performances is just one of several sets which make up the label's Pietro Scarpini Edition.
Scarpini was born in Rome April 6, 1911. His mother was a pianist and most probably gave the young Pietro an early grounding. He went on to study at the city's Accademia di Santa Cecilia, where his teachers were Alfredo Casella for piano, Ottorino Respighi for composition, Alessandro Bustini for conducting and Fernando Germani for organ. Deputizing for an indisposed soloist at his graduation concert in 1937 in Mozart's Piano Concerto in E flat major K. 271, he made a forceful impression, by all accounts. This led to offers of three concerto engagements with the Berlin Philharmonic. Reviews lauded him as “a new star in the international sky of pianists”, and his career was launched. He also held teaching posts at Parma and Florence. Prior to the war, his repertoire was fairly standard, but post-war his interest in contemporary music flourished, aided by a probing intellect. Hindemith and Dallapiccola became working colleagues and friends. He championed Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire throughout his career, and he gave the first Italian performance of the composer's Piano Concerto in 1948. He retired from the concert platform in the late 1960s but continued to give master classes and teach in Siena and Darmstadt. A heart attack in 1982, followed by a triple by-pass, curtailed his activities. In 1988 he had a pacemaker fitted, from then on confining his piano-playing to his home. He died in November 1997.
Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 25 in C major, K 503 is a magnificent edifice on the grand scale, and is my favourite of the cycle. This live performance from 1953 in no way disappoints. The ceremonial opening of the first movement has sufficient grandeur and nobility, with Rodinski's pacing totally agreeable. Scarpini plays throughout with refined elegance. The beguiling slow movement has fluidity, the pianist lovingly contouring the long phrases. An infectious joie de vivre permeates the Allegretto finale. Whilst there's a tangible audience presence, I feel that it positively adds to the atmosphere of the live event.
The later date of 1961 is reflected in the better sound quality of the Piano Concerto No. 27, K 595. I didn't detect any audience presence for the duration, neither is there applause at the end. Vittorio Gui is a sympathetic partner and offers Scarpini wonderful support. Tempi seem just right, but Gui does make a strange ritardando at the end of the tutti of the opening of the first movement, which I don't particularly like. The piano is well-balanced in the overall soundscape. I love Scarpini's overall sense of structure and architecture, and he appears to savour each phrase, allocating importance to every note. In the slow movement, he emphasizes its radiant lyricism, and in the finale the playful element.
Mozart's solo piano works, consisting of two sonatas and a handful of short stand-alone pieces, derive from private tapes recorded in the pianist's home studio, dated c. 1974/75. They've certainly scrubbed up well in the remasterings. To the sonatas, Scarpini adopts a sober slant. In the slow movement of the F major, for instance, he eschews a prettified approach in favour of classical restraint. The finale is notable for the flawless finger work, and sparkling virtuosity. K 457 makes a fitting contrast, being one of only two piano sonatas the composer wrote in the minor key. Scarpini invests the opening movement with turbulence and drama, so much so that when the slow movement comes it feels like soothing balm. The finale is shot through with tragedy and disquiet.
In the D major Rondo, the sound feels constricted, but not so in the sublime B minor Adagio, where there's air and space around the piano sound. It's an elegantly poised reading of exquisite refinement. It doesn't really get any better than this. The Variations sound as if played on an out-of-tune piano. Of the two versions of the Andante, both closely miked, the second version is the preferable of the two in overall consistency, where Scarpini achieves some luminous bell-like sonorities.
The beautifully produced booklet presents an array of fascinating photos of the pianist.
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No.25 in C major, K.503 (1784/86) [33:47]
(Cadenza 1: Ferruccio Busoni, BV B18 - 1922)
Orch. del Teatro Comunale di Firenze/Artur Rodzinski
rec, live, 1 March 1955, Teatro della Pergola, Firenze
Piano Concerto No.27 in B-flat major, K.595 (1791) [30:54]
Orch. A. Scarlatti di Napoli della RAI/Vittorio Gui
rec. live, 21 November 1961, Conservatorio S.Pietro a Majella, Napoli
Piano Sonata No.12 in F major, K.332/300k (1778) [17:05]
Piano Sonata No.14 in C minor, K.457 (1784) [19:45]
Rondo No.1 in D major, K.485 (1786) [5:40]
Adagio in B minor, K.540 (1786) [8:12]
Variations on “Ein Weib ist das herrlichste Ding”, in F major K.613 (1791) [6:32]
Andante (Orgelstück für eine Uhr) in F major, K.616 (1791)
1st & 2nd Scarpini's version [6:59 + 6:58]
rec. c. 1974/75 Scarpini home studio | c.1974/75
(private tapes from undated recording sessions in Roma, Firenze and St.Moritz)