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Pietro Scarpini (piano)
Discovered tapes - Mahler … and beyond
rec. 1950-1973
RHINE CLASSICS RH-021 [5 CDs: 322:00]

This is the sixth and final volume in Rhine Classics’ Scarpini Edition, amounting to a total of 33 CDs. My reviews of the previous volumes can be found here (review ~ review ~ review ~ review ~ review). The Edition documents the pianist’s significant recordings, many of which were recorded privately.

Pietro Scarpini was born in Rome April 6, 1911. His mother was a pianist and 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. 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, 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.

In 1950, Scarpini made a two-piano transcription of movements 2-5 of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony. Using the overdubbing technique he performed both parts. The recording was made for Italian radio, 13 February 1950. The 16” 78rpm acetate transcription discs have scrubbed up well. I can’t say I’m a particular fan of this sort of thing, for whilst the arrangement no doubt captures to some extent the composer’s intent, the restricted range of instrumental colour is a greatly limiting factor for me. Scriabin’s Prometheus, Poem of Fire, Op 60 from 1910 is loosely based on the myth of Prometheus. Both it, and the Poem of Ecstasy, are possibly two of the composer’s finest orchestral works. The performance from 24 April 1968 has all the passion and fire of Richter’s recording. Scarpini’s grand scale playing is imposing and spectacular as he weaves in and out of the narrative, with Piero Bellugi keeping his forces firmly under control. The wordless chorus is impressive.

Scarpini was a great advocate of Busoni’s Piano Concerto. On February 3 1966 he performed it in Cleveland under George Szell as part of the composer’s centenary celebrations. Robert Shaw took care of the choral contributions. A pupil of Busoni, Edward Weiss, reckoned that Scarpini’s interpretation of the work matched that of the composer closer than that any other pianist. The piano part is fearsome, a formidable vehicle for virtuosity, and Scarpini meets the challenges head one with flair, panache and artful musicality. Szell provides sympathetic support, highlighting the richness of the orchestration. The choral contributions are fervent in their delivery. Later, in November of that year, the pianist took the Concerto into the studio in Munich to record it with Rafael Kubelik. That performance can be found on Rhine Classics’ volume dedicated to Busoni and Liszt. The other performance in the volume under review was set down on 26 February 1954 under the baton of Fernando Previtali. It’s an equally engaging account, overflowing with drama and incident, and in good sound too.

Busoni composed his exotic Indian Fantasy, Op 44 between April 1913 and February 1914, and premiered it with himself as soloist in Berlin in March 1914. In three continuous movements marked Fantasy, Canzona and Finale, the work resembles a virtuoso piano concerto based around melodies and rhythms from various American Indian tribes given to the composer by American ethnomusicologist Natalie Curtis Burlin. The piano writing is post-Lisztian in scope and the melodies are striking. This live recording from Siena dates from 7 September 1966. The Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino is directed by Piero Bellugi. Another live airing from Paris with the same conductor, this time at the helm of the Orchestre national de l’O.R.T.F. and set down two years later on 10 January 1968 can be found on Rhine Classics’ Scarpini volume dedicated to Busoni and Liszt. Sound-wise and interpretively there’s no noticeable difference between the two performances.

Valentino Bucchi is a new name to me, and will probably be unknown to many, judging by the dearth of information on him on the internet. His Concerto in rondò, for piano and orchestra, penned in 1957, is an engaging work, neoclassically drafted, with angularity pitched against more serene and reflective moments. I like it very much, and for me it amounts to a new discovery. Ferruccio Scaglia and the Rome orchestra respond to the music’s every twist and turn.

Violinist Sandro Materassi joins forces with Scarpini for Dallapiccola’s Due Studi, for violin and piano. The first is a lugubrious Sarabande, contrasting strikingly with the jagged and dissonant Fanfare e Fuga. The four-movement Divertimento for violin and piano begins with a Pastorale, which sounds as if it’s being improvised on the spot. A Baroque-style Bourrée follows. The third movement has a hint of Paganiniana, whilst the finale is a set of variations on a declamatory chordal theme. The violin and piano items, a studio recording from 1973 released as an LP in Italy, are in a warm, cushioned intimate sound.

CD 5 is devoted to the Legendary Scriabin Recital given at the Sale Apollinee, Theatro La Fenice, Venice on 20 April 1963. Scarpini has a natural affinity for the composer’s piano music. His well-grounded technique favours exquisite voicing of chords, digital dexterity, layering of sound and stunning pianistic effects. His sensitive use of pedal enables him to coax myriad tonal shadings from the piano. His En Rêvant, Avec Une Grande Douceur from 2 Poèmes, Op 71 is a perfect example. He teases the rhythms, and is always alert to dynamic variance from whispering pianissimos to thundering fortissimos, and every gradient in between. His Vers la flamme (Towards the flame) is terrific, imbued with scorching volatility – real edge-of-the-seat stuff. So too is the final item of the recital the Sonata No 9, Op 68 ‘Black Mass’, perhaps the most famous of all Scriabin’s sonatas, played with an imaginative range of expression hardly equaled.

As with the previous volumes, the remasterings are superb in every respect. The accompanying booklet has some fine photos documenting the pianist’s career. The whole Scarpini project has been a labour of love for Emilio Pessina and I thank him for his commitment and endeavours.
Stephen Greenbank

CD1 | 63:54
Mahler / arr. Scarpini
Symphony No 10 in F-sharp major (1910)
(deciphering & transcription for 2 Pianos, from the original manuscript sketches of II, III, IV, V movements)
studio | RAI Roma | 13.II.1950
Piano I & Piano II parts, recorded with overdubbing technique
Prometheus (Le poème du feu), Op 60
OS e Coro Acc. Nazionale St. Cecilia | Piero Bellugi | live | Roma | 24.IV.1968

CD2 | 70:02
Piano Concerto in C major, Op 39 (final chorus: Italian rhythmic version by Vittorio Gui)
RAI Torino | Fernando Previtali | 26 February 1954

CD3 | 67:10
Piano Concerto in C major, Op 39 (final chorus: original German rhythmic version)
Cleveland Orchestra & Chorus | George Szell | 3.II.1966 -stereo-
CD4 | 60:50
Indian Fantasy, Op 44
Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino | Piero Bellugi | Siena | 7.IX.1966
Valentino Bucchi
Concerto in rondò, for piano and orchestra (1957)
RAI Roma | Ferruccio Scaglia | 23.IV.1960
- 2 Studi, for violin and piano
- Tartiniana Seconda, Divertimento for violin and piano
Sandro Materassi, violin | Pietro Scarpini, piano | studio, Roma | 1973
CD5 | 63:54
The Legendary 1963 Scriabin Recital in Venice:
- 4 Préludes, Op 48
- 4 Pièces, Op 51
- 4 Pièces, Op 56
- Piano Sonata No 5, Op 53
- 2 Poèmes, Op 63
- 2 Préludes, Op 67
- 2 Poèmes, Op 71
- Vers la flamme, Op 72
- 5 Préludes, Op 74
- Piano Sonata No 9, Op 68 “Messe noire”
- Poème, Op 32/1
live | Sale Apollinee, Teatro La Fenice, Venezia | 20.IV.1963

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