MAURO GIULIANI, Vol. 2 = Grand Variations; Allegretto; Andantino; Variations, Rondos, etc. – David Starobin, guitar /Amalia Hall, violin /Inon Barnatan, p. – Bridge

MAURO GIULIANI, Vol. 2 = Grand Variations on a Savoyard theme WoO; Allegretto, Op. 98, No. 4; Andantino, Op. 98, No. 7; Prelude, Op. 83, No. 1; Variations, Op. 24a; Two Rondos, Op. 68; Prelude, Op. 83, No. 4; Allegretto, Op. 98, No. 8; Marcia di Cherubini Variata, Op. 110 – David Starobin, guitar /Amalia Hall, violin /Inon Barnatan, p. – Bridge 9418, 58:16 (9/9/13) [Distr. by Albany] ****:

David Starobin’s second volume of Giuliani works for guitar was a long time coming, the first having appeared in 1993 (Bridge BCD 9029). As with that other disc, the current offering includes music in a variety of forms, most from the last phase of Giuliani’s career. Sets of variations are a prominent feature of the program—apt since this was a Giuliani specialty. Unlike on the first volume, however, Starobin includes two samples of Giuliani’s chamber music, the two Rondos for guitar and piano and the extended Variations, Op. 24a, for violin and guitar. The latter is a fine example of Giuliani’s mastery of variations form and displays an Italianate penchant for themes with an operatic quality. The theme, a Siciliano in A minor, sounds like a melancholy cavatina from an Italian opera. Like most works of Giuliani, this was undoubtedly written to showcase his own talent, yet guitar and violin about evenly share the responsibilities—both are given their own variation to star in. The whole is capped with a jaunty Polonaise based on the theme.

If Giuliani is sometimes called the Beethoven of the guitar, his Rondos don’t include any flights of Beethovenian derring-do for the piano: the writing is modest and rather backward looking. However, David Starobin thinks the second rondo might bear the influence of the German master; the two composers knew each other in Vienna and shared a Viennese publisher. Starobin bases his theory on “certain harmonic turns [that] seem characteristic of the great master, and uncharacteristic of Giuliani.” Perhaps. The piece does make a surprising turn from a dreamy, slightly sad minor-key opening to a sunny major-key B section, and it subsequently courts sun and shade in a way that recalls both Beethoven and Schubert. So at the least, Viennese musical influences seem to be at work here.

Opuses 83 and 98 are sets of short works, the latter containing genial little pieces designed as etudes for less skilled hands than Giuliani’s. In contrast, Opus 83 contains six preludes that are highly virtuosic and have an almost Baroque complexity. Apparently, they’re not original works but arrangements by Giuliani; they also appeared around the same time in an edition claiming one Antoine de L’Hoyer as composer. The most likely scenario is that both composers arranged the work of another unknown master. Whatever the provenance, these pieces supply some interesting contrast with the other pieces on the disc since they are all about fancy finger work and harmonic complexity rather than the lyricism that characterizes Giuliani’s music generally.

The program is bookended, appropriately, by two sets of variations, the first written at the end of Giuliani’s life and based on a popular French tune. The last work is a tour de force of both variations form and writing for the guitar. Though Starobin doesn’t include any of Giuliani’s sonata-allegros on this program (the first volume did include the Grand Overture, Op. 61), Angelo Gilardino maintains that the Marcia di Cherubini Variata could almost be considered as “combining three movement sonata form with a set of continuous variations (the third and fourth variations as a slow movement and the fifth variation and coda as finale).” An interesting take on this piece, but however one wants to view it, it is commanding music and a worthy conclusion to the program. Incidentally, the march theme itself is taken from Luigi Cherubini’s Les Deux Journées (1800); the popular tune also found its way into the finale of Hummel’s Trumpet Concerto.

David Starobin’s playing throughout is elegant, highly fluent, balancing, as Giuliani’s music itself does, the bravura with the lyrical. Starobin’s partners Amalia Hall and Inon Barnaton are on the same page with him; Ms. Hall, a Curtis grad and student of Pamela Frank and Joseph Silverstein, has the most heavy lifting to do in the Op. 24a Variations and makes a fine impression. Though the recordings were set down in three different venues, the sound is invariably fine—warm and very present—helping to make this a recommendable release whether you’re new to Giuliani or a longstanding admirer.

—Lee Passarella

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