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Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, BWV 903 (1)

Sonata in A flat, op.110 (2)
Preludes, Books I and II (3)
Danseuses de Delphes; Voiles; Les collines d'Anacapri; La sérénade interrompue; Minstrels;La puerta del vino; "General Lavine" - excentric; La terrasse des audiences au clair de lune; La cathédrale engloutie; C'est qu'a vu le vent d'Ouest
Guido Agosti (pianoforte).
Live recordings, Siena 1980 (1), Rome 1986 (2), Siena 1971 (3).
Aura AUR 205-2 [75' 13"]


The Italians enjoy a good myth as well as anyone and the country has its fair share of performers famous for not performing. The Michelangeli legend travelled round the world, and amongst the musical intelligentsia that count in Italy, no native conductor is spoken of with more bated breath than Franco Ferrara, who for health reasons had to leave the podium too soon to leave much recorded evidence either way (he certainly became a revered teacher of conducting). But what of Guido Agosti (1901-1989), who never entirely left concert-giving although his platform nerves made every appearance a torture to him and, very often, to his public as well? (He, too, became a famous teacher). The ideal place for such a performer was surely the recording studio but either he didn't want to or nobody thought of it. However, the present clutch shows him on his good days (he nearly comes a complete cropper in the trio of the Beethoven scherzo, but remember he was 85 at the time).

The provenance of the recordings is not explained and the Bach is quite awful, a real lady's handbag recording if ever there was one, but it cannot entirely dim the torrents of swirling semiquavers, the veritable cathedrals of glorious, inauthentic sound which this unrepentant Busoni pupil is drawing from his instrument.

The other recordings are not bad for what they are. In the Beethoven Agosti plays with a noble simplicity which succeeds in avoiding the many interpretative pitfalls with which this elusive work is littered. Maybe some other pianists have revealed a greater spiritual depth in the Klagender Gesang, beautifully sung though it is, but the fugues are marvellously clear.

However, it's the Debussy which makes the disc a must. Here is wonderfully translucent sound, a truly orchestral voicing of the different strands within the texture and, in the snappier pieces, a rhythm that makes you want to get up and dance. These are really communicative performances and before the last, Ce qu'a vu, Agosti treats his public to an eleven-minute lecture-recital in which he presents the piece, in increasingly excitable tones, as the portrayal of a shipwreck, replete with the cries of drowning sailors. To understand this, and the interesting essay by Italy's leading writer on pianists, Piero Rattalino, you would need to know Italian at virtually native-speaker level (there are no translations). I thought of getting out Gieseking for some comparisons but decided against it. Agosti is up among the gods, and you don't compare gods.

I don't know how widely this disc is distributed outside Italy. Aura's website is so prospective buyers might seek information there.

Christopher Howells


Bach zero
Beethoven, Debussy

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