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Alfredo PIATTI (1822-1901)
The Operatic Fantasies - Volume Two
Introduction et variations sur un thème de Lucia di Lammermoor (Donizetti) Op. 2 (c.1838) [12:14]
Rondò sulla Favorita (Donizetti) [12:00]
Souvenir de l’opéra Linda di Chamounix (Donizetti) Op. 13 (publ.1 854) [10:59]
Parafrasi sulla Barcarola de Marino Faliero (Donizetti) (1841-1842?) [9:48]
Rimembranze del Trovatore (Verdi) Op. 21 (publ. 1865) [16:42]
Capriccio sur des Airs de Balfe (1855?) [10:11]
Adrian Bradbury (cello)
Oliver Davies (piano)
rec. 2018, Recital Room, Churchill College, Cambridge, UK
MERIDIAN RECORDS CDE84659 [71:54]

This is the second of two discs highlighting the operatic fantasies for cello and piano by the influential Italian cellist Alfredo Piatti. Born in Bergamo in 1822, he began studies with his great-uncle Gaetano Zanetti and then with Vincenzo Merighi at the Milan Conservatory. Merighi had originally voted against Piatti’s admission to the institution but relented once he heard the young cellist play one of Merighi’s compositions. From there Piatti had a successful career, earning the admiration of musicians as widely spread as Anton Rubinstein, David Popper, Arthur Sullivan, Joseph Joachim and Franz Liszt, who made his acquaintance in Munich as Piatti was returning penniless to Bergamo. He had been reduced to selling his cello and Liszt arranged for a loan of an instrument enabling Piatti to give a successful concert in the town (ending with the obligatory and symbolic hug from Liszt). He gave concerts in Paris, now playing an Amati instrument that was a gift from Liszt, and his career took off, particularly in England. Such was the success of his appearances there with Joachim that Sir Charles Grove and Sir Alexander MacKenzie headed a committee of the greatest musicians of the day to present an illuminated address on the occasion the 50th anniversary of their debut.

Right from the outset, opera was part of Piatti’s life. His father had been a close neighbour of Donizetti, and became a friend when they both studied under the composer Simon Mayr. Alfredo Piatti had, from the age of eight, played in the local orchestra which was led by his father. He played for some forty consecutive opera performances that often did not end till 11 pm. He continued playing orchestral cello in later life and thus was to lead the cello section in the London premiere of Verdi’s Il Trovatore. As a youngster he was in the orchestra when Michael Balfe came to Bergamo to sing in a production of a Pacini opera. He played in the Bergamo premiere of Lucia di Lammermoor and was principal cellist for the 1847 London run of La Favorita (coincidently conducted by Balfe). So, he was intimately familiar with the operatic world, and the effect of its popular melodies on an eager public. Like most instrumental soloists in the 19th century, he made operatic fantasies, reminiscences, paraphrases, capriccios etc. part and parcel of his touring repertoire. On this disc and its predecessor (Meridian CDE84642), Adrian Bradbury and Oliver Davies appear to have recorded them all. This volume is mostly devoted to Donizetti, with four of his operas in the spotlight. The Introduction et variations sur un thème de Lucia di Lammermoor is based on a single number – Edgardo’s final act aria Tu che a Dio spiegasti. The music of the lengthy introduction is Piatti’s own, leading beautifully into the aria. This is followed by four variations, including one displaying Piatti’s – and Adrian Bradbury’s – mastery of harmonics. The work ends in grand virtuoso style. The Rondò sulla Favorita employs Fernando’s Act 4 aria, the tender Spirto gentil, as an introduction before the rondo proper. The theme of the Rondo is the Act 1 chorus Dolce zeffiro which Piatti intersperses with more of Fernando’s arias in dramatically contrasting manner. It should be noted that this work was originally scored for cello and orchestra; Oliver Davies, the sterling accompanist here, has made his own reduction.

With the Souvenir de l’opéra Linda di Chamounix and the Rimembranze del Trovatore after Verdi we are in the territory of fantasies in which a selection of contrasting themes from the respective operas are presented in a satisfying sequence. This gives the listener a flavour of the music and hopefully includes at least one of their favourites. Both of these open in a similar way. In the case of Linda di Chamonix the mournful strains of Cari luoghi give way to the spirited dance of O luce di quest anima – I love the moment when the tune of the latter worms its way into the texture. In Il Trovatore Count de Luna’s lyrical Il balen del suo soriso opens the proceedings before we dance into Stride la vampa. In both of these works, there is a wealth of cello fireworks and heart-wrenching lyricism.

Marino Faliero was premiered in Paris in 1835, the first of Donizetti’s operas to be premiered there. Piatti probably came across it when it was staged in Bergamo in 1841; he played it widely over the next two decades at least, though it was never published. He only uses the music of the “short, bloody, all-male Act 2” as the notes describe it. One of the melodies is Lo ti veggio which, like Tu che a Dio spiegasti in his Lucia fantasy is accompanied by solo cello in Donizetti’s original.

The final work on the disc, the Capriccio sur des Airs de Balfe takes three hit numbers from the Bohemian Girl, The Maid of Honour and The Maid of Artois. I confess that the only hit number by Balfe that I know is I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls which I am occasionally called upon to accompany but I have to say I enjoyed the melodies on offer here. I note that the sentimental tenor aria When other lips (or Then you’ll remember me) was recorded by John McCormack and was even in a 1936 film version of the Bohemian Girl with Laurel and Hardy, no less! It is treated to two variations before the action moves to The Maid of Honour and the tenor aria In this old chair my father sat. It is a song of simple charm and is treated as such by Piatti; no variations, just a cadenza at the end that leads straight into the gently virtuosic version of the waltz aria The rapture swelling from Balfe’s 1836 opera The Maid of Artois. This is sung by Isoline, the maid of the title, a role first played by the famed soprano Maria Malibran who died just four months later at the age of 28. Once again, Oliver Davies has created the piano accompaniment from the autograph full score, and Adrian Bradbury has completed the unfinished cadenza.

Delightful as this recording is, I wondered at first if it would have limited appeal. Opera fantasies have regained some popularity in the piano world with many recordings of Liszt, Thalberg or the like but they have generally fallen out of fashion now that the operas themselves can so readily be heard. Now I am not so sure. There is a certain amount of cello writing here that might only appeal to the cellophiles out there (if that is the cello equivalent of pianophile) but there is also much more of real lyrical appeal. Piatti chose these works because they were brimming with good tunes. The cello is a prime candidate for singing out these tunes, especially in such skilful hands as Adrian Bradbury’s. I can only say that I enjoyed the playing here immensely. It has been a pleasure to explore these operas through the ears of this fêted violoncello master and these two excellent performers.

Rob Challinor

 



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