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Pietro Scarpini (piano)
Discovered Tapes - From Baroque to Contemporary
Pietro Scarpini (piano)
rec. 1950-1967
RHINE CLASSICS RH-010 [12 CDs: 14 hours]

On the final disc of this 12 CD set we find around thirty minutes of piano works by Stravinsky and Bartók, taped in Milan in 1950. The significance of these is that they are the only commercial solo piano recordings the pianist set down. The disconcerting paucity of a commercial discography makes the enterprising Rhine Classics Scarpini Edition, collections of tapes and home recordings of his concerts and radio broadcasts, all the more precious. Two previous volumes focussed on Mozart works (2 CDs) and Busoni and Liszt (6 CDs), both of which I had the privilege of reviewing (review ~ review). This more substantial box titled 'from Baroque to Contemporary' offers a comprehensive retrospective of the artist’s work, embracing music that's familiar in addition to generous helpings of mouth-watering rarities. For me, the whole series has been a voyage of discovery, and as an aficionado of the less-trodden paths, composers such as Luigi Dallapiccola, Goffredo Petrassi and Mario Peragallo, just to mention three, arouse my spirit of enquiry.

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 gave the first Italian performance of the composer's Piano Concerto in 1948. He retired from the concert platform in the late 1960s, continuing 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.

The Baroque era is represented by the music of J.S. Bach and Domenico Scarlatti. Bach is performed in transcriptions by the pianist himself and Ferruccio Busoni. The latter are transcriptions of works attributed to Bach. Scarpini places much emphasis on the music's lyrical qualities, a perfect example being the Andante in G minor, BWV 969 (Busoni). As well as carefully teasing out the polyphonic strands of these works, for me he delivers them in such a way that they sound fresh off the press. The four Scarlatti Sonatas are the ideal vehicle for showcasing Scarpini's range of touch and colouristic palette. Sample Keyboard Sonata in F major, K.107 / L.474 and you'll see what I mean.

The collection is enriched by Scarpini's forays into the far-flung reaches of the repertoire. CD 3 is a case in point, where we are treated to concertos by Roger Sessions and Riccardo Malipiero and eleven piano pieces by Luigi Dallapiccola. Sessions’s Piano Concerto, dedicated to the memory of Artur Schnabel, was commissioned by the Juilliard School of Music for its fiftieth anniversary. Contrapuntal, angular and atonal, the pianist is nicely profiled in the mix, and Mario Rossi does a fine job pointing up the colourful orchestration. The performance of Raccardo Malipiero’s Piano Concerto from 27 May 1961 is its world premiere. Dissonant and challenging, the performance suffers from some very brief drop-outs. Dallapiccola dedicated his Quaderno musicale di Annalibera to his daughter Annalibera on her 8th birthday. Surprisingly, given its dedicatee, much of the music is dense, complex and rugged. The recording is slightly rough-edged but this in no way spoils the enjoyment of these absorbing miniatures. Two other rarities found on CD 5 are Goffredo Petrassi's Piano Concerto, in the first British performance from London's Royal Festival Hall, dated 4 March 1959. After an animated opener, there's a gleaming Arietta followed by some well-constructed variations. The final Rondo is less endearing, giving the impression that the composer ran out of inspiration. The sound of the live recording is remarkably clear for its age. Mario Peragallo's Piano Concerto, penned over ten years later than the Petrassi, is skilfully orchestrated, with a piano part percussively wrought. The dark, sombre central movement is particularly atmospheric. Ferenc Fricsay draws out the very best from soloist and orchestra in this Munich studio broadcast.

There are generous helpings of Prokofiev in the shape of two piano concertos (1 & 2) and three sonatas (2, 8 & 9). The Second Piano Concerto in four movements is the most substantial of the concertos, and we hear it here in the second version of 1924. Scarpini's probing readings of the sonatas reveal the depth and range of these magnificent scores. The two Bartók concerto performances (1 & 3) date from the late 1950s. The Third Concerto is in marginally better sound. Spontaneity and rhythmic freedom inform these traversals, with a sense of abandon in the faster movements. It's a pity we're missing the Second Concerto. Scriabin's Prometheus is apocalyptic in scale, and all concerned bring to it much energy and excitement. Scarpini surfs the peaks and troughs of this scintillating work with technical aplomb and a true sense of direction. It’s certainly not all barnstorming, with both soloist and conductor sensitive to dynamics and nuance. Six Scriabin Piano Sonatas are allocated to CD 11. Nos. 5 and 9 derive from a 1963 broadcast, the rest are culled from diverse sources broadcast between 1958 and 1968. Scarpini makes a powerful case for these sensuous, passionate and, at times, erotic works. He certainly has the technique to do them full justice. If I were to single out one it would be No. 7 'Black mass'. The pianist gets to the very heart of the Scriabin sound world in a performance that's mercurial, diabolic and fantasy-driven. A selection, ten in all, of the Op. 11 Preludes, taken from a 1964 broadcast, is most welcome, in beautifully characterized readings. Regrettably No. 11, my favorite, wasn't included.

Casella's Partita for small orchestra and piano from 1925, neoclassical in style, here receives an energized performance in good sound. Janáček's Concertino is playful and acerbic, and the 1965 live recording from Firenze has to be one of the finest I've encountered. Scarpini fulfils the dual role of pianist and conductor. The highlight of the Schoenberg disc (CD 9) has to be the Piano Concerto. Here one witnesses a marriage to technical finesse and intellectual vigour. Antonio Pedrotti, at the helm of the Orchestra Sinfonica di Torino della RAI, adds greatly to the performance's success.

There's a fair selection of standard fare. Mozart is represented in a captivating account of the Concerto No. 22 in E flat, K. 482. The beguiling Andante is framed by lively outer movements, with the 'hunt' finale vividly characterized. Scarpini employs Busoni's cadenzas. Dimitri Mitropoulos provides inspiring support. Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2, although ragged and lacking polish, is played to the manner born. This energized account is suitably rewarded with enthusiastic applause after the final bars. A highlight of the set for me is Scarpini's poetically inspired and ruminative account of Schumann's Humoreske. If ever a reading ticks all the right boxes, it's this one. The pianist's wide colouristic range is a positive asset. Scarpini's pedestrian account of Schubert's A major Sonata D.959 fails miserably, and finds the pianist firmly out of his comfort zone. The finale sounds as if played on automatic pilot. Brahms’s Sonata No.2 is compelling for its breadth of vision and dramatic sweep.

In terms of production quality and presentation, Rhine Classics is once again true to form with this superb collection. The audio restorations are remarkable and the whole Scarpini project has been a labour of love. The beautifully produced booklet photographs add further to the appeal of the package. The Pietro Scarpini Edition is a sterling achievement, which gets my wholehearted recommendation for resuscitating the memory of a long-forgotten artist.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf

Johann Sebastian Bach
[1] -[10] Transcription by P.Scarpini of 10 Chorale Preludes & Arias
recorded: studio | RAI Roma | 8 January 1961 | broadcast
[11] Transcription by P.Scarpini of Chorale Prelude BWV 691a
recorded: studio | RAI Napoli | 16 December 1964 | broadcast
Transcription by F.Busoni from 3 works attrib. to J.S. Bach, BV B 42 (1917):
[12] 1.Fantasia in D minor, BWV 905
[13] 2.Andante in G minor, BWV 969
[14] 3.Scherzo in D minor, BWV 844
recorded: studio | RAI Napoli | 16 December 1964 | broadcast
Domenico Scarlatti
[15] Keyboard Sonata in F minor, K.238 / L.27
[16] Keyboard Sonata in F major, K.107 / L.474
[17] Keyboard Sonata in D major, K.490 / L.206
[18] Keyboard Sonata in E major, K.206 / L.257
recorded: studio | NDR Hamburg | 29 April 1957 | original master

Alfredo Casella
[1] -[3] Partita, for piano and small orchestra, Op.42 (1924/25)
Orchestra Alessandro Scarlatti di Napoli della RAI | Massimo Pradella
recorded: live | Auditorium Domenico Scarlatti RAI, Napoli | 25 February 1967 | broadcast
Leoš Janácek
[4] -[7] Concertino, for piano and chamber ensemble, JW VII/11 (1925)
Orchestra del Maggio musicale fiorentino(soloists):Antonio Abussi, 1stviolin |
Carolina Francalanci, 2ndviolin | MarcelloFormentini, viola | Attilio Zambelli, clarinet |Pasqualino Rossi, horn | Romano Alinari, bassoon | Pietro Scarpini, piano/conducting
recorded: live | “28° Maggio musicale” - Teatro della Pergola, Firenze | 12 June 1965 | broadcast
[8] -[11] Capriccio, for piano left-hand and wind instruments, JW VII/12 (1926)
Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma della RAI | Ferruccio Scaglia
recorded: live | Auditorium Foro Italico, Roma | 11 February 1961 | broadcast
Isaac Albéniz
[12] Iberia - Book 3 (1908): No. 3 El polo
Heitor Villa-Lobos
[13] -[15] A prole do bebę - series 1 “As Bonecas / The Dolls” (1918): Nos. 2, 6, 7
recorded: live | Sala bianca, Palazzo Pitti, Firenze | 4 February 1959 | broadcast

Roger Sessions
[1] -[3] Piano Concerto“in memory Arthur Schnabel”(1955/56)
Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma della RAI | Mario Rossi
recorded: live | Auditorium Foro Italico, Roma | 4 January 1958 | broadcast
Riccardo Malipiero
[4] -[6] Piano Concerto“per Dimitri (Mitropoulos)”(1961)
Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano della RAI | Nino Sanzogno
recorded: live | Teatro La Fenice, Venezia | 27 May 1961 | broadcast
(world premiere:XXIV° Festival Internazionale di Musica Contemporanea di Venezia)
Luigi Dallapiccola
[7] -[17] Quaderno musicale di Annalibera, 11 piano pieces (1952)
recorded:studio | RAI Roma | 1 December 1954 | trancription disc

Sergei Prokofiev
[1] -[4] Piano Concerto No.2 in G minor, Op.16 (2ndversion, 1924)
New York Philharmonic Orchestra | Dimitri Mitropoulos
recorded: live | Carnegie Hall, New York | 7 November 1954 | original master
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
[5] -[7] Piano Concerto No.22 in E-flat major, K.482
(Cadenzas 1 & 3: Ferruccio Busoni, BV B14 - 1919)
New York Philharmonic Orchestra | Dimitri Mitropoulos
recorded: live | Carnegie Hall, New York | 6 November 1955 | transcription disc

Goffredo Petrassi
[1] -[3] Piano Concerto (1936/39)
BBC Symphony Orchestra | Nino Sanzogno
recorded: live | Royal Festival Hall, London | 4 March 1959 | broadcast
(first performance in Great Britain)
Mario Peragallo (1910-1996)
[4] -6] Piano Concerto (1949/51)
Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks | Ferenc Fricsay
recorded: studio | Herkulessaal, Munich | 21 November 1952 | broadcast
Sergei Prokofiev
[7] -[9] Piano Concerto No.1 in D-flat major, Op.10 (1911/12)
Orchestra Sinfonica di Torino della RAI | Massimo Freccia
recorded: live | Auditorium RAI, Torino | 13 March 1959 | broadcast

Sergei Prokofiev
[1] -[4] Piano Sonata No.2 in D minor, Op.14 (1912)
recorded: studio | RAI Roma | 25 March 1955 | broadcast
[5] -[7] Piano Sonata No.8 in B-flat major, Op.84 (1939/44)
recorded: studio | RAI Roma | c.1954 | transcription disc
[8] -[11] Piano Sonata No.9 in C major, Op.103 (1947)
recorded: studio | RAI Roma | 29 April 1960 | broadcast

Johannes Brahms
[1] -[4] Piano Concerto No.2 in B-flat major, Op.83 (1878/81)
Giuseppe Selmi, cello solo (3)
Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma della RAI | Vittorio Gui
recorded: live | Auditorium Foro Italico, Roma | 13 December 1958 | original master
Robert Schumann
[5] -[11] Humoreske in B-flat major, Op.20 (1839)
recorded: studio | RAI Firenze | 14 June 1958 | original master

Franz Schubert
[1] -[4] Piano Sonata No.20 in A major, D.959 (1828)
recorded: studio | RAI Firenze | 28 March 1958 | broadcast
Muzio Clementi
[5] -[7] Piano Sonata in G minor, Op.34/2 (1793)
recorded: live | Sala bianca, Palazzo Pitti, Firenze | 4 February 1959 | broadcast
Johannes Brahms
[8] -[11] Piano Sonata No.2 in F-sharp minor, Op.2 (1852)
recorded: live | Sala bianca, Palazzo Pitti, Firenze | 4 February 1959 | broadcast

Arnold Schoenberg
[1] -[21] Pierrot Lunaire, Op.21 (1912)
Magda Laszlo, voice
Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma della RAI(soloists):
Severino Gazzelloni, flute/piccolo | Giacomo Gandini, clarinet | Ugo Fusco, bass clarinet |Dino Asciolla, violin/viola | Bruno Morselli, cello | Pietro Scarpini, piano/conducting
recorded: live | Auditorium Foro Italico, Roma | 6 February 1960 | broadcast
[22] Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte, Op.41b (1942)
Alvar Liddell, speaker
Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma della RAI | Michael Gielen
recorded: live | Auditorium Foro Italico, Roma | 6 February 1960 | broadcast
[23] -[26] Piano Concerto, Op.42 (1942)
Orchestra Sinfonica di Torino della RAI | Antonio Pedrotti
recorded: studio | Auditorium RAI, Torino | c.1957 | broadcast

Béla Bartók
[1] -[3] Piano Concerto No.1, Sz.83, BB 91 (1926)
Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma della RAI | Fernando Previtali
recorded: live | Auditorium Foro Italico, Roma | 25 May 1957 | transcription disc
[4] -[6] Piano Concerto No.3 in E major, Sz.119, BB 127 (1945)
Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma della RAI | Antonio Pedrotti
recorded: live | Auditorium Foro Italico, Roma | 5 February 1958 | broadcast
Alexander Scriabin
[7] Prometheus “Le počme du feu”, Op. 60 (1909/10)
Orchestre National et Choeur de l’O.R.T.F. | Piero Bellugi
recorded: live | Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris | 10 January 1968 | original master, stereo

Alexander Scriabin
[1] -[4] Piano Sonata No.3 in F-sharp minor, Op.23 (1897/98)
recorded: studio | RAI Firenze | 28 March 1958 | broadcast
[5] Piano Sonata No.5, Op.53 (1907)
recorded: live | Sale Apollinee, Teatro La Fenice, Venezia | 20 April 1963 | broadcast
[6] Piano Sonata No.7, Op.64 “Messe blanche” (1911/12)
recorded: live | Sala concerti, Accademia Chigiana, Siena | 13 September 1968 | broadcast
[7] Piano Sonata No.8, Op.66 (1913)
recorded: live | Sala bianca, Palazzo Pitti, Firenze | 4 February 1959 | broadcast
[8] Piano Sonata No.9, Op.68 “Messe noire” (1913)
recorded: live | Sale Apollinee, Teatro La Fenice, Venezia | 20 April 1963 | broadcast
[9] Piano Sonata No.10, Op.70 “Les insectes” (1912/13)
recorded: live | “27° Maggio musicale” - Teatro della Pergola, Firenze | 19 June 1964 | broadcast

Sergei Rachmaninoff
[1] Variations on a Theme of Corelli, Op.42 (1931)
recorded: studio | RAI Firenze | 28 March 1958 | broadcast
Alexander Scriabin
[2] -[11] Preludes (24), Op.11 (1888/96): Nos. 2, 4, 5, 9, 10, 12, 13, 15, 17, 22
recorded: studio | RAI Napoli | 16 December 1964 | broadcast

BONUS| Scarpini’s only solo piano commercial recordings
Igor Stravinsky
[12] -[14] Piano Sonata (1924)
[15] Piano-Rag-Music (1919)
Béla Bartók
[16] -[21] Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm (6) | Mikrokosmos Vol.VI, 148-153, Sz.107 (1939)
[22] -[24] Piano Sonata, Sz.80 (1926)
recorded: studio Durium S.A. | Milano | 1950

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