Sound engineer: Anthony Lai
Recorded at: H. Ford College, Dearborn Heights, (MI - USA) on June, 27th 2012
Mastered by Maurizio Bozzi at Drycastle studios
Were the content of this album by Francesco Attesti the program for a recital, one could say that it offers a “robust” proposal at its central position (the Beethoven sonata), two 18th century entrées followed by a stupendous page of Schubert and, finally, some encores freely extending between the 19th and 20th, to conclude with the pianist’s personal homage to the audience. This is definitely what every interpreter has always pursued: searching for his own audience, whether composed of experts, enthusiasts, concert hall spectators, or potential (and in many ways mysterious) recording listeners.
So, our recital CD opens with the very famous Aria from the third Overture (or Suite) for orchestra by Johann Sebastian Bach, classified as BWV 1068 in the official Bach catalog. As a whole, this work is an exuberant suite where the physical presence of trumpets and tympani leads us to think of a more than probable “outdoor” destination for this music. Nevertheless, in its second movement of our Aria, winds and tympani fall silent, giving way to solo strings in one of the most seductive melodies invented by Bach, of a simultaneously meditative, intimate, and noble nature. Precisely for these characteristics, the Aria has ended up by detaching itself from the suite to live a life of its own, made up of innumerable arrangements and adaptations that, beyond any changes in timbre, unfailingly reveal each time Bach’s prodigious composing engine, his unparalleled balance between the spirits of geometry and finesse. The piano version that Attesti presents here almost denudes the piece of its 18th-century references, restoring its sense of a beauty beyond time.
On the contrary, the graceful harpsichord Allegretto by Venetian Giovanni Battista Pescetti, whose grandfather and father were organists at the San Marco Basilica, takes us back to the fullness of the 18th century. A composer with an international career, as often happened to the best Italian musicians, Pescetti was active not only in his native city but also in Rome, London, where nine of his sonatas were published in print, Florence, Prague, and probably Dresden, where the manuscripts of six of his harpsichord sonatas exist, important evidence of the transition between the Baroque era and the new gallant style.
Let’s turn the page now and prepare ourselves for a decisive atmospheric change. Franz Schubert’s Op. 90 was published one year before the composer’s death and includes four “improvisations” probably written slightly earlier, but not before 1826. This is therefore the “final” Schubert, although using such an adjective for a man between 25 and 30 years old and at the height of his creative happiness, makes an impression. Impromptu Op. 90 n. 2 in E-flat major has a tripartite A-B-A structure, in which the two external sections, made up of rapid triplets, move along in moto perpetuo, while the central section offers, in the distant key of B minor, a singable theme sustained by an unstoppable flow of arpeggios. The A’ reprise, finally, contains a return of the B theme in a play of harmonic modulations that bear the signature of Schubert’s unmistakable genius.
In March of 1796, the Viennese publisher Artaria printed, as Op. 2, three sonatas for piano by Ludwig van Beethoven. Although dedicated to Joseph Haydn, who was for a brief time Beethoven’s listless and disputed teacher, in reality these three sonatas constitute a decisive step by Beethoven toward maturing an absolutely original style. The formal structures inherited from Haydn and Mozart are filled here with a new substance of literally unheard of musical thoughts and overflow with an exuberance, above all in the final movements, that not infrequently deforms their old casing. The changes in form and style introduced by Beethoven in his Op. 2 are many: the number of movements, which passes from three to four; the initial movement in sonata form that precisely here becomes a typical Beethoven battlefield; the fullness of harmonic excursions; and a dynamic power capable of raging in split-second form.
The Allegro con brio that opens Sonata no. 3 in C major first presents a theme of reassuring Haydn-like form, proceeding by parallel thirds, but suddenly there’s a fortissimo that leads to the second theme, of a completely different nature. In this early play of contrasts a new musician already announces himself, aimed at an audience broader than that of the usual, refined salon. On the other hand, as already observed, the entire sonata seems full of a “concert-like” outburst, a continual appeal to a listener in a grand concert hall. We gather this from various elements: the brilliancy and power of certain chords; several double-octave passages; the use of trills, especially in the final movement, no longer ornamentally, but structurally; and the ample cadenza that ends the first movement. No less surprising is the second movement, a suave adagio in the distant key of E major, which contains an aching central section in minor, almost an anticipation of the Moonlight sonata. The two ending movements bring us back to the dominant key, C major. Highly virtuosic, but not purely technical exhibitions, the Scherzo and the Allegro finale overflow with ideas and vitality. Even when he introduces new difficulties, then, Beethoven is never interested in exploring the keyboard in the technical-virtuosic sense, so much as in expanding the instrument’s expressive possibilities as a function of a musical thought in continual tension.
Let us imagine at this point that the concert has ended. And let’s also imagine the applause, the bows, the rite of exits and recalls, and the pianist who finally sits down again for the enjoyment of those present. The first encore takes us back mentally to the “grand waltz” scene of Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard, with an unforgettable Burt Lancaster and the young and splendid Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale. Visconti himself consigned to Nino Rota, the sound track’s creator, the autographed manuscript of a waltz for piano by Giuseppe Verdi, an almost unknown youthful work, perhaps dedicated to Countess Clara Maffei and probably meant by the great opera composer to be destroyed, together with other “sins of youth”. To our good fortune, things went differently: the manuscript was not destroyed, but rather came into the hands of a genial director and from there to Rota, who orchestrated it in his own way, consigning it forever to posterity. It is lovely to be able to listen to it again here, as originally conceived by Verdi. Far from running short, the enthusiasm of those present encounters the interpreter’s willingness to give us more music. And now, after all those sounds, we find ourselves happily caught off guard by the subtle music, arcane and hypnotic, of the Gnossienne n. 1 by Erik Satie. “Music that has no need of being heard,” according to its author’s provocative definition, but that precisely for this, for its stealthy and calm entry, irresistibly conquers us every time, enfolding us in an oriental perfume. A bit fin de siècle Parisian cabaret, a bit esoterically medieval, Satie’s music seems to originate from an undefined elsewhere. Astor Piazolla’s is not like that, but is, rather, strongly idiomatic and marked by the unmistakable flavor of Argentina, even where its sound is not entrusted to the composer’s legendary bandoneon. Originally conceived for quintet with bandoneon, the Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas were composed between 1964 and 1970, but Piazzolla himself prepared a piano version of his seasons, of which Attesti proposes here Winter and Summer. The ultimate encore, finally, is a true surprise, a giddy farewell by the interpreter to his audience. But it is as though the pianist’s hands and fingers have themselves taken command to re-mix fragments and memories of what has happened up to now. The piece partially plays a musical experiment, partially has the effect of when, walking through the corridors of a conservatory, we are met by sounds coming from the various classrooms. Sounds which, by combining themselves in unexpected ways, also know how to reveal to us surprising expressive possibilities.