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Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Estampes (1903) [14:05]
Maria Gabriella MARIANI (b.1963)
Mediterranea, suite for piano (2009-2019) [29:07]
Francis POULENC (1893-1963)
Napoli, FP.40 (1925) [10:11]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Visions Fugitives, Op 22 (1917) [20:43]
Maria Gabriella Mariani (piano)
rec. June 2020, Studio 'I Musicanti', Rome
DA VINCI CLASSICS C00377 [76:00]

Visions is my first exposure to Maria Gabriella Mariani. In a previous review, Rob Challinor referred to Martha Argerich’s praise for Mariani: “An extremely interesting talent ... her improvisations are extraordinary” and “her music reveals a very impressive creative sense, supported by exceptional piano-player skills”. Whilst I especially enjoy mixed-composer recitals, especially when they have an overriding connecting theme, this is one of the finest that I’ve heard. Indeed it might be the finest piano record that I’ve heard this year. That earlier review goes into detail on the specific compositions so what follows is a series of overall impressions. As a whole this is a very visual collection from an artist who uses the piano as an artist might a palette. Unlike some recitals, I had absolutely no problem at all in listening to the whole sequence straight through. My attention never flagged. The recording is splendid and sounded magnificent on my B&O system where the 5:1 configuration opens up the stereo recording very satisfactorily.

Three Estampes by Debussy seemed very apt on a warm sunny summer afternoon with its nod to the Impressionism of painters like Georges Seurat. As is the case with Gauguin, who went to the South Seas, Debussy was intrigued by the Orient and by Javanese music. The other two works are played with great dexterity. They convey both Spain and Normandy, poignantly so in the case of Normandy, where my family spent several idyllic holidays. Mariani's Mediterranea was a real tour de force. After wondering whether the three pieces might overstay their welcome, I was held, totally rapt, by their inventiveness, sparkle and humour. On this showing Mariani has a real talent as a composer as well as being a formidable musician and pianist.

The three movements of Napoli confirm my experience of never having heard anything by Poulenc that I didn’t like and admire. I’m now set on acquiring the Poulenc-Erato budget set Edition du 50e anniversaire 1963-2013, to further my exploration of this genial composer, who wrote pieces about Babar and a homage to the great Dennis Brain. As well as those works, the Organ Concerto and Gloria, the set will give me the opportunity to assess the classic 1958 recording of Dialogues des Carmelites under Pierre Dervaux and the Orchestre du Théâtre National de L’Opéra.

Prokofiev's twenty short Visions fugitives, were composed in 1917 when he was 26. This music is less “spiky” and more accessible than some of his work. Here Sviatoslav Richter needs to be heard; see the review by Christopher Howell of a DG “Panorama” Double. I have the Richter in a ‘breeze-block’ complete DG/Philips collection. There’s also a budget Naxos collection with Eteri Andjaparidze which is well worth it’s modest price. There are also ten of these pieces, recorded by Prokofiev in 1935. I greatly enjoyed Ms Mariani's traversal which will make me re-evaluate my assessment of Prokofiev’s piano works. The impressionist nature of the Visions fugitives fits in very well with the other works here and brings the CD to a close that would have produced a standing ovation at a live concert.

I greatly enjoyed Maria Gabriella Mariani’s artistry in this excellently presented and recorded recital. Whilst I haven’t heard the other disc by this pianist, Pour jouer (Da Vinci Classics review), which I will try and remedy, I do have “Fairy Tales” collection on Da Vinci Classics DVC00160, which is awaiting a review. This includes Schumann’s Kinderzenen, Debussy’s Children’s Corner as well as a self-written composition Kinderliana. If that disc is of the same inspirational, high standard, it’ll be another joyous listen.

David R Dunsmore

Previous review: Rob Challinor

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