Doremi DHR-7849, 74:56 (Distrib. Allegro) *****:
A true Beethoven acolyte, Dino Ciani (1931-1974) gave the entire cycle of sonatas in the early 1970s, performing the two concertos inscribed here in 1973 and 1970. Having died in a car crash prior to recording a major group of concertos for posterity, Cortot pupil Ciani consequently finds scanty representation on commercial discs, and we are indeed lucky to enjoy any surviving documents. The C Major Concerto is a real treasure, brilliantly played and recorded, in excellent sound. After the most breezy and articulate of presentations of the opening movement. Allegro con brio, the cadenza spins out in both thoughtful and lyrical fashion, a by a miniature sonata in itself, with hints of what his Waldstein Sonata might have conveyed. When the heaven-storming subsides and the main theme emerges from a music-box, we bite our gloves waiting for the explosive re-entry of the orchestra after the long-held runs and tiny arpeggio Ciani tosses us with Jovian humor.
Conductor Bartoletti’s long experience in the opera pit certainly shapes the cantabile of the Largo movement, with its shades of Mozart’s B-flat Concerto, K. 595. Great trills, sumptuous interplay between piano, horn, and clarinet. The Rondo is all bustle and sparkling wit, Ciani’s moving fast enough to make the orchestra pant to keep up. The sheer joy in the figurations proves absolutely infectious. Never a false note, a missed cue, the movement cascades to a rollicking, self-indulgent finale, Ciani’s holding the last trill and staccati like choice delicacies for the tutti to gobble up. Sensational!
The old master Vittorio Gui, whose HMV recordings of symphonic music by Haydn still have not returned to CD, musters hefty drama from Beethoven’s first mature piano concerto, here inscribed 1970. Ciani projects a darker, more poetic tone than he does the C Major, the introspective mode dominates. Fluid, arched phrasing and studied architecture mark every bar. Ciani might be the Italian Solomon. Clean articulation from both hands, the Beethoven counterpoint unfolds fluently, without mannerism but rife with personality. Gui responds with ever increased fervor in the orchestral singing line. The symphonic sonority of the development section expands to stunning proportions, and the cadenza thunders out, no kidding around with double octaves. The tympani rolls under Caini’s fluid runs, the strings sound like cannons. Now that Ciani has our attention, the Largo insinuates itself forward, the tension palpable until the winds and strings open, forte. Excellent colors, the non legato passagework rendered in clean detail. The tape hiss does not dissuade us that we are in the presence of profound musicianship.
That Ciani does not punch a hole in the keyboard for the Rondo quite surprises me; he plays with enough force. I would have given an eyetooth to hear a discussion on this movement between Ciani and Michelangeli. By the time we have reached the string fugato we are in the throes of an irresistible force, momentum dictating its own furor. By the last da capo, the Furies are in control. The final cadenza is a parody of Gradus ad Parnassus, the volatile Mr. Ciani has become a keyboard buzz saw cutting away the cataracts and barnacles of tradition. My first recommendation for Best of the Year honors, this disc.