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Carlo Zecchi (piano)
The Complete Cetra Recordings 1937-1942 and selected additional 78s
rec. 1934-42
APR 6024 [73:38 + 78:55]

Carlo Zecchi (1903-84) is probably better remembered as a conductor than as a pianist. That role was nurtured by studies with Hans Münch and Antonio Guarnieri, which soon led to a rostrum debut in 1942. Up till the late 40s he was a soloist and a conductor but once he definitively took the latter role, he rarely returned to the piano. The success of his 1947 Decca set of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto with Clara Haskil is one of the most notable of his legacies, but he was a worldwide exponent and was later to give many masterclasses on the art of conducting.

That, however, is not the Zecchi explored in this twofer. Rather it focuses on his recorded career as a pianist in the years 1930-42. He seems to have had a few false starts and debuts didn’t always work in his favour. His studies with Busoni were brief and cut short by the latter’s death but some years later it was during a period of study with Schnabel in Berlin that he expanded his repertoire and consolidated qualities that were shortly to emerge in a sequence of discs for Cetra and Ultraphone that reveal just how outstanding a musician he was.

Though his career in the studios began with a little-known series in Moscow in 1930 and continued c.1934 in Paris – it seems difficult to know whether they date from 1934 or the following year – the bulk of discs come from Turin sessions made between 1937 and 1942. These include a sequence of Scarlatti sonatas, Respighi arrangements of old music, Bach – hyphenated or otherwise – Liszt, Schumann and Chopin, though does include other repertoire too. The Galilei-Respighi Gagliarda stands as representative of Zecchi’s way with this material – grand, nobly voiced and poetically infused – whilst its disc-mate, an anonymous Siciliana, also arranged by Respighi, reveals prodigious reserves of legerdemain. The four Scarlatti sonatas are communicative and beautifully scaled with the C major, K159 having exceptional qualities of articulation and clarity; Zecchi brings the music to life with vivid immediacy. These are salient elements of his playing. Taste, always, but also a quality of scintillating incision, qualities that suffuse the Bach-Vivaldi Concerto in G major whereas the gravity of Ich ruf’ zu hir, Herr Jesu Christ – in the Reger arrangement not the Busoni – reveals the grave evenness of his tonal production.

For the Brandenburg Concerto No.5 in 1938 he was teamed with Gioconda De Vito and Arrigo Tassinari in a recording directed by Fernando Previtali. The EIAR strings are rather thin but that’s of a piece with this lightly-scaled performance. There’s nothing dogged or heavy about it, and Zecchi’s first movement cadenza is dispatched with great musicality and not as the increasingly agonised lump of virtuosity that can sometimes be heard on disc. It’s splendid to hear the other two soloists as well, not least in the beautifully scaled performance of the ‘chamber trio’ in the central movement. Those who only know De Vito’s post-war EMI legacy will want to hear this rarer example of her art.

Schumann’s Kinderszenen is another large-scale performance and portrayed with the maximum of characterisation – with an excitingly fast Hasche-Mann, unexaggerated Träumerei, mock heroic Wichtige Begebenheit, extremely flighty Fürchtenmachen and the two final movements taken better than most, though not quite rivalling Carl Friedberg for philosophic depth. The Liszt discs are sparkling examples of his art revealing balance and exceptional clarity to generate a marvelously controlled bravura. La Leggierezza was something of a calling card. His Chopin is just as valuable, the music’s narratives charted with a rare sense of candour. It’s a shame that there is such inherent damage in the recording of the Mazurka in A minor which disfigures the last minute but that in B minor shows his narrative-descriptive powers in all their glory, full of dramatic accelerandos and panache. It’s valuable that Cetra recorded a solitary example of his Debussy, albeit frustrating too as he plays Poissons d’or so beautifully – and fortunate too that this side didn’t suffer the technical problems of the Chopin Mazurka, its matrix neighbour that day in May 1937. The Toccata of Francesco Ticciati is a rare example of Zecchi’s contemporary repertoire. The Parisian Ultraphone recordings include another Scarlatti sonata, more Chopin and a Ravel Alborada del gracioso that again make one wish that he had recorded this repertory in far greater depth. As a real bonus there are examples of Moscow recordings made in 1930, right at the outset of his career in the studio, for MusTrust, a precursor of Melodiya. His familiar La Leggierezza is here as is Chopin’s Ballade No.1. These recordings are more plummily recorded than the Paris session, let alone the Turin ones, and far more splintery but their lack of sonic clarity shouldn’t impede admiration of the performances.

Jonathan Summers’ excellent notes go into necessary depth and Mark Obert-Thorn’s transfers preserve shellac rustle the better to preserve frequencies. Zecchi was a superb technician and an interpreter of high distinction and the evidence is to be heard throughout this generously filled twofer.

Jonathan Woolf

Track listing

CD1 (72.38)
Cetra Recordings, Milan 1937-1942
1. GALILEI/RESPIGHI Gagliarda (from Antiche danze et arie);
2. ANONYMOUS/RESPIGHI Siciliana (from Antiche danze et arie)
3-6. SCARLATTI Sonatas in G major, Kk259; C major, Kk159; D major, Kk96; G major, Kk523
7-9. VIVALDI/J S BACH Concerto in C Major, BWV 973;
10. J S BACH Prelude and Fugue No 13 in F sharp major, BWV 858
11. J S BACH/REGER Ich ruf’ zu dir, herr Jesu Christ, BWV 639
12-14. J S BACH Brandenburg Concerto No 5 in D major, BWV 1050 with Arrigo Tassinari (flute) and Gioconda De Vito (violin)
E.I.A.R. Symphony Orchestra/Fernando Previtali
15. SCHUBERT Moment musical in A flat, Op 94 No 6
16-28. SCHUMANN Kinderszenen, Op 15
CD2 (76.13)
1. LISZT Paganini Étude No 5 in E major, ‘La chasse’ (S141/5)
2. LISZT Paganini Étude No 4 in E major, ‘Arpeggio’ (S141/4)
3. LISZT Étude de concert No 2 in F minor, ‘La leggierezza’ (S144/2)
4. CHOPIN Waltz No 5 in A flat major, Op 42
5-7. CHOPIN Mazurkas in A minor, Op 17 No 4; C sharp minor, Op 30 No 4; B minor, Op 33 No 4
8. CHOPIN Berceuse in D flat major, Op 57
9. CHOPIN Barcarolle in F sharp major, Op 60
10. DEBUSSY Poissons d’or (No 3 from Images, Book II)
11. TICCIATI Toccata
Ultraphone Recordings, Paris 1934/5
12. SCARLATTI Sonata in A major, Kk113
13-14. CHOPIN Études in G flat major, Op 10 No 5; F major, Op 10 No 8
15. CHOPIN Grande Polonaise in E flat major, Op 22
16. RAVEL Alborada del gracioso (No 4 from Miroirs)
MusTrust Recordings, Moscow 1930
17. LISZT Étude de concert No 2 in F minor, ‘La leggierezza’ (S144/2)
18. CHOPIN Ballade No 1 in G minor, Op 23




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