Antonio Meneses – Capriccioso = J-L DUPORT: Etude No. 7 in g minor from 21 Etudes; J-P DUPORT: Etude No. 8 in D Major from 21 Etudes; PIATTI: 12 Caprices, Op. 25; Capriccio sopra un tema della Niobe di Pacini, Op. 21; POPPER: Etude No. 29 in f-sharp minor – Antonio Meneses, cello – Avie AV2328, 68:44 (5/11/15) [Distr. by Allegro] ****:
Brazilian cello virtuoso Antonio Meneses (b. 1957) revitalizes what has been dismissed as “mere” competition repertory – music by Jean-Louis Duport, Jean-Pierre Duport, Alfredo Piatti, and David Popper – in order to grant these works well-deserved status in the history of Romantic cello composition. A star pupil of the late Antonio Janigro, Meneses plays a sonorous Alessandro Gagliano instrument from Naples, c. 1730. The Duport selections date back to Meneses’ student days, since the elder of the brothers Duport, Jean-Pierre (1741-1818), had been a court favorite of Frederick the Great. Jean-Louis Duport (1749-1819) likely premiered Beethoven’s Op. 5 Sonatas, that same cellist whose talent came to the attention of the Emperor Napoleon. The two Duports frame the entire recital, each having supplied what Meneses characterizes as “not just…technical exercises but…inspired poetic miniatures in their own right.”
The largest of the offerings on this highly personable disc comes from Carlo Alfredo Piatti (1822-1901), who as a composer is fairly contemporaneous with Giuseppe Verdi. History tells us that the young Piatti so impressed Franz Liszt that the great keyboard master supplied Piatti with a new instrument to replace one that had been sacrificed to medical costs. The set of Caprices, Op. 25 (1875) certainly mean to parallel the Paganini contribution to musically satisfying violin pedagogy. Like the Paganini opera, Piatti’s Caprices embody a compendium of bravura technical exercises: multiple stops, self-accompaniment from the thumb position, rapid trills in various registers, high harmonics, and touches that embrace legato, lifted, and ricochet bow strokes.
Meneses consciously tries to replicate Piatti’s intentions, especially in long-held notes that require one legato bow-stroke that simultaneously must be cantabile. Meneses comments that No. 2 Andante religioso in E-flat employs “duet” sonorities, while No. 3 Moderato in B-flat combines thirds and octaves into a lyric of spiritual melancholy. The cello virtually accompanies itself in martial, swaggering double stops in the D Minor No. 4, Allegretto. Punishing finer-work in “bariolage” characterizes No. 5 in F, while the angular a minor No. 8 demands virtuosic trills. The No. 7 in C Major (Maestoso) seems reminiscent of the cadenza to the first movement of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. Try comparing the Liszt Preludio to the Transcendental Etudes to the A-flat No. 6 of Piatti, the latter an application of melodic sostenuto over long-held bass tones. The sweetly lyrical cello tone from Meneses supports his own opinion, that “each caprice’s emotional sound world . . . were telling a story.” The massive No. 10 in b minor and its immediate companion, No. 11 in G Major, ring with Bach filigree, espessivo, reaching high into the cello’s upper register in the former, with a Spanish sarabande in the latter. Finally, the No. 12 in e minor, Allegretto capriccioso, asks of Meneses forced harmonics and arco strokes in catty dialogue in light touches.
Meneses proceeds to add one major instrumental scena from Piatti, his monumental Capriccio on the tragic opera Niobe of Giovanni Pacini, Op. 21 (c. 1840), a melodrama that likewise inspired Liszt to compose his Grande fantasie on the same themes. The hugely pyrotechnical work by Piatti divides itself into an introduction, coloratura arias, duets, parlando recitatives, and finale, whose spiccati prove awesome enough to justify the price of admission.
Meneses renders one piece by David Popper ((1843-1913), affectionately called “the Sarasate of the cello.” Popper’s Hohe Schule des Violoncello-Spiels of forty pieces serves as the cello performer’s bible, and Janos Starker devoted many insightful comments upon its intrinsic value. The No. 29 in f-sharp minor Meneses conceives as an elaborate pas de deux, a scene in which a solitary man joins a lovely woman for a transfiguring dance.