Antonio Pompa-Baldi – Napoli: Improvisations on Neapolitan Songs, by Roberto Piana – Steinway & Sons 30086, 72:13 ****:

(Antonio Pompa-Baldi, piano)

Canzona Napaletana is the term for composed Neapolitan popular music. This genre became a staple of Italian culture in the 1830’s. Songs like “O Sole Mio” and Funiculi Funicular” were conceived in an annual songwriting competition. Opera singers like Enrico Caruso, Mario Lanza, Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo have re-introduced these songs to world-wide audiences. Modern vocalists, including Mario Merola, Roberto Murolo, Renato Carsone and Sergio Bruni represent modern-era Neapolitan singers. Italian pianist Antonio Pompa-Baldi has released an album of Neapolitan songs on the prestigious Steinway & Sons label. Napoli is a unique collection of re-invented improvisations by Roberto Piana.

Listeners will certainly recognize the jaunty, amenable “Funiculi Funicular”. Many classical composers including Richard Strauss and Nikolai Rimsky-Rimsky-Korsakov have incorporated this melody into their compositions. It has been covered by the likes of Connie Francis, Pavarotti. Andrea Bocelli and even The Grateful Dead. Here after an improvisational “heavy’ intro, Pompa-Baldi maintains the carefree flow with rhythm and precision. On “Serenatella” he manages the balance between structure and free expression, emboldened by the arrangements. in a classical interpretation, “Il Cardillo” has a winsome quality and deliberate tempo, with countering left and right hand runs. “Marechiare’ mixes tempos with aggressive bass hand and grandiose flourishes. There is a glowing slower part with moodiness and punctuation. The hushed, plaintive melody of “Serenata Medioevale” is expressed with harmonic delicacy with arpeggio and deft technique. In contrast, “La Rosa” has a playful vibe aided by a shifting 3/4 time signature.

Portrait Antonio Pompa-Baldi

Antonio Pompa-Baldi
Foto by Santo Domingo

Pompa-Baldi’s grasp of melodic articulation shines on the ageless “Era de Maggio”. The inherent emotional context makes it evident why this is a favorite among opera singers. The pianist’s shifts easily from dramatic intonation to sentiment. In the spirit of salon music of the 19th century, “Il Segreto” is performed with heartfelt resonance and virtuosic detail. “Pastorella’ elicits harmony and a slight dissonance in a brisk 2:12. There is a noticeable change of pace on “La Fiera de Mast’Andrea”. Pompa-Baldi glides through this celebrated folk tarantessa from 1845. The accessible jubilance is captured with vitality. “A Vuchella” (covered by many opera singers, most notably Pavarotti) is exquisite with restrained grandeur and ruminative shading. With a keen ear for melancholy, “Cannetella” has some complex chords and notation.

Pompa-Baldi never strays from the core essence of a song. “Te Voglio Bene Assaje” is straightforward with graceful sincerity.

Tackling an iconic song and transforming it is no easy task. but that is what happens with “Scarlattian Improvisation On Torna a Sorrento”. A.P.B. combines the anguished plea of Ernesto de Curtis’ “Back To Sorrento” with Domenico’s Scarlatti’s “Sonata K27/L449”. The “overexposure” of this song in popular music gives way to an edgy, fresh approach. This “organized” improvisational dynamic permeates the album with tunes like “I”te Vurrie Vasa”, “Raziella” and “Maria Mari” showcasing adroit tempos and emphatic notation. In a surprising finale, the title track interprets “Santa Lucia” with jazzy lyricism. At 6:45, the pianist expands his instrumental creativity and ferocity. It never gets boring.

TrackList: 
Funiculi, Funicular
Serenatella (Little Serenade)
Io Cardillo (The Linnett)
Marechiare
Serenata Mediovale (Medieval Serenade)
La Rosa (The Rose)
Era de Maggio (It Was May)
Il Segreto (The Secret)
Pastorella (Little Shepherdess)
La Fiera de Mast’Andrea (The Fair Of Mast’Andrea)
Lo Marenaro (The Sailor)
‘A Vucchella (A Sweet Mouth)
Cannetella
Te Voglio Bene Assaje (I Love You So Much
Scarlattian Improvisation On Torna a Surriento (Back To Sorrento)
I’te Vurria Vasa (I Long To Kiss You)
Raziella
Maria, Mari
La Stella Dell’Arnella (The Star Of Arnella)
Napoli

—Robbie Gerson

Link to Antonio Pompa-Baldi’s web site here.

Link to more information and track samples from Steinway and Sons here:

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