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Goffredo PETRASSI (1904-2003)
Partita (1926) [8:27]
Toccata (1933) [6:53]
Piccola Invenzione (1941) [0:53]
Invenzioni (1944) [20:08]
Petite PiŔce (1950) [1:46]
Oh! Les Beaux Jours! (1942/1976)
Luigi DALLAPICCOLA (1904-1975)
Sonatina Canonica su “Capricci” di Niccol˛ Paganini (1943) [10:36]
Tre episodi dal balletto Marsia (1949) [13:19]
Quaderno musicale di Annalibera (1951/2) [14:07]
Andrea Molteni (piano)
rec. 27-28 June 2020 & 16-17 September 2020, Griffa & Figli Auditorium, Milan
PIANO CLASSICS PCL10222 [45:04 + 37:51]

All the works recorded here have already been recorded before during the LP era, but to the best of my knowledge this is the first time that they have been recorded together, which, to a certain extent, makes sense. Petrassi's and Dallapiccola's names are often bracketed together and rightly so, as they were exact contemporaries, both born in 1904 and were for a long time the leading figures on the Italian contemporary music scene. Their earlier works were somewhat indebted to the then fashionable Neo-classicism, but from then on things tended to drift apart a bit as, while Dallapiccola embraced twelve-tone music and serialism fairly early in his musical development, Petrassi remained somewhat more reluctant regarding dodecaphony and serialism which he used sparingly during his mature years. Moreover, Dallapiccola's mature output consists of vocal music (including operas) rather than instrumental or orchestral music, whereas Petrassi's attitude was the polar opposite and the backbone of his not inconsiderable output lies in the eight concertos for orchestra, a few choral-orchestral works and some chamber works. Nevertheless, as far as their respective compositions for piano are concerned, it is worth noting that compared to the rest of their output, both composed relatively little for the instrument and nothing of real substance, the most significant exception being Dallapiccola's Quaderno musicale di Annalibera (1951/2) and Petrassi's Invenzioni (1944).

Petrassi’s overtly neo-classical pieces unquestionably display the charm and elegance which remained with him throughout his life, as even in his most advanced works, he relied on some sort of instrumental bel canto. The pieces are mostly fairly short so that the music never outstays its welcome. There is not much comment to be made about these works, as the music speaks for itself, but the set of Invenzioni of 1944 is worth singling-out for its contrapuntal mastery. There is a deep gap between its stylistic and formal mastery and the earlier pieces recorded here; the composer feels free to exploit to the full the whole technical and expressive range of the instrument. However, Petrassi's last piano work, the diptych Oh! Les Beaux Jours!, reuses some older material e.g. the Piccola invenzione (1941), also recorded here. This short, colourful and, at times, mildly ironic diptych concludes the present survey of Petrassi's output for piano. One might regret the absence of Siciliana e Marcia (c. 1935) but that is a short piece for piano duet. Incidentally, Petrassi's piano output, including Siciliana e Marcia, was recorded by Lya De Barberis for Italia (ITL 70017) and that long-deleted LP has never been reissued in CD format.

Lya De Barberis also recorded an LP devoted to Dallapiccola's piano music, although she then added Musica per tre pianoforti (Inni) recorded in multi-tracking (Italia ITL 70011). This, too, has never been reissued on CD. Compared to his contemporary Petrassi, Dallapiccola wrote fewer piano pieces, although one of them - Quaderno musicale di Annalibera - is a quite substantial achievement in its own right and one to which the composer returned to make an orchestral version, Variazoni per Orchestra. The composer regarded Quaderno as his most important and rigorous twelve-tone composition, at least at this stage of his career. It consists of eleven movements contrasting free with strict canonic counterpoint. Each of the short movements aims to say the maximum possible without wasting a single note. As such, the Quaderno is a study in concision very much in the mould of mature Webern. The earliest piano piece by Dallapiccola is his Sonatina Canonica su “Capricci” di Niccol˛ Paganini completed in 1943. Andrea Molteni believes that Dallapiccola possessed a sense of humour which is displayed in some of his works, perhaps most evidently in the Sonatina Canonica. For sure, this comparatively light-hearted piece is light-years away from the strict, austere structure of Quaderno. Marsia, Dallapiccola's only ballet score was composed in 1942-1943 but staged in 1948 although fragments had also been heard in 1948 when the Belgian Radio under Daniel Sternefeld premiered the suite drawn from it as Frammenti sinfonici dal balletto 'Marsia'. Moreover, the composer also drew a shorter suite for piano as Tre episodi dal balletto 'Marsia', recorded here.

It may be a cause for regret that neither Petrassi nor Dallapiccola ever composed more for the piano but a quick glance at their respective outputs clearly reveals that they both had other preoccupations, so one must be content with what one has and Andrea Molteni seems to me the perfect advocate of these composers he admires and whose works he obviously relishes. He plays these at times technically exacting pieces with considerable aplomb, understanding and musicality. The only caveat concerns the very short playing time, for which he cannot be blamed. This double disc is a superb traversal of the piano output of two important Italian composers who, unfortunately for us, wrote all-too-little for piano - but what there is, is far from negligible.

Hubert Culot

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