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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No 4 in G major, Op 58 [35:19]
Piano Sonata No 10 in G major, Op 14/2 [17:36]
Piano Sonata No 11 in B-flat major, Op 22 [21:55]
Piano Sonata No 4 in E-flat major, Op 7 [27:49]
Piano Sonata No 8 in C minor, Op 13 “Pathétique” [18:55]
Piano Sonata No 32 in C minor, Op 111 [26:58]
Rondò a capriccio in G major, Op 129 [5:46]
Pietro Scarpini (piano)
RAI Roma/Wilhelm Furtwängler
rec. 1952-1978
RHINE CLASSICS RH-020 [74:56 + 79:37]

Rhine Classics’ Scarpini Edition continues to go from strength to strength. This is the fifth volume I’ve reviewed and there’s still one to go; reviews of the previous can be found here (review ~ review ~ review ~ review). When complete it will comprise of 33 discs, representing all the significant recordings left by Scarpini, many recorded privately. This volume is devoted to Beethoven and consists of a live solo recital given in Milan on 13 March 1961, a concerto recording dated 19 January 1952 and three home studio recordings from the 1970s.

Pietro Scarpini was born in Rome April 6, 1911. His mother was a pianist and gave him his initial grounding. He studied 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. His concert career launched, he was declared “a new star in the international sky of pianists”. He took a great interest in contemporary music, performing works by Hindemith, Dallapiccola and Schoenberg, just to name three. In the late 1960s he retired from the concert platform but continued to give master classes and teach in Siena and Darmstadt. After a series of health problems, he died in November 1997.

The 1952 live recording of the Furtwängler/Scarpini/RAI Beethoven Piano Concerto No 4 has had several incarnations on CD, and collectors will be familiar with the performance. I’m told that many are poor-sounding, certainly the Urania release that I’m familiar with is. Comparing it to this new transfer suggests that Emilio Pessina has had access to excellent source material. Whereas the Urania transfer is muddy and dimly lit, this remastering restores a favorable balance between soloist and orchestra, and the overall picture isn’t as sonically constricted. The piano line is brighter and more defined. Furtwängler is a sensitive partner and is with the soloist all the way, allowing a certain amount of freedom and flexibility. The finale, though not as fast as some, is nevertheless rhythmically buoyant and engaging.

Piano sonatas make up the lion’s share of the collection. Three of them derive from a recital that took place at the Circolo della Stampa, Milan on 13 March 1961. Scarpini makes a dramatic impact with the first chord of the Grave introduction of the ‘Pathétique’, and keeps the tension and momentum up throughout the movement. The Adagio cantabile which follows offers some balm to the senses, whilst the finale is extrovert and speaks of both joy and optimism. The two Op 14 sonatas were completed immediately after the ‘Pathétique’ and they couldn’t be more different. Small-scaled and intimate, they contrast startlingly with the intense dramatic surge of their predecessor. Scarpini opts for No 2 in G major. Puckish and gleeful, the pianist expresses the gentle lyricism of the opener, and the stealthy tread of the theme and variation central movement. In Beethoven’s Op 111, his final sonata, the first movement brims over with heroic struggle and emotion intensity. In the Arietta you feel the cumulative effect of the variations as they progress, each becoming more rhythmically complex.

It seems strange that Scarpini only made a single commercial studio recording throughout his career. He preferred to set down his interpretations in the comfort of his own home. Radio broadcasts he also favoured, and these he meticulously taped and catalogued. The two sonatas, Op 7 and Op 22, together with the capricious Rondò a capriccio in G major, Op 129, have been sourced from the Scarpini archive. Each was set down in the pianist’s home studio between 1970-1978. The piano can sound a little clangy at times in the upper registers yet, despite this, there’s an intimacy, musicality and commitmnet enveloping the endeavour.

The booklet contains a cameo portrait of the pianist by the producer and audio restorer Emilio Pessina in addition to some interesting black and white photographs of the artist. Detailed track listings, timings and dates are included. As to the audio quality, these documents derive from a variety of sources and have undergone 24bit 96 kHz remastering. The Milan recital sounds excellent. The 1952 concerto recording, whilst not having the same cleanness, projects the Scarpini tone very well. The home studios have the intimacy and closeness one would expect.

I totally concur with Mr. Pessina who lauds Scarpini as a “true interpreter of the classics”. 

Stephen Greenbank

CD1 [74:56]
Piano Concerto No 4 in G major, Op 58 [35:19]
Wilhelm Furtwängler | RAI Roma | live 1952
(new remastering)
Piano Sonata No 10 in G major, Op 14/2 [17:36]
Circolo della Stampa, Milano | live 1961
Piano Sonata No 11 in B-flat major, Op 22 [21:55]
private tape, home studio | 1972

CD2 [79:37]
Piano Sonata No 4 in E-flat major, Op 7 [27:49]
private tape, home studio, Roma | 1978
Piano Sonata No 8 in C minor, Op 13 “Pathétique” [18:55]
Circolo della Stampa, Milano | live 1961
Piano Sonata No 32 in C minor, Op 111 [26:58]
Circolo della Stampa, Milano | live 1961
Rondò a capriccio in G major, Op 129 [5:46]
private tape, home studio | 1970

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