The piano artistry of Italian master Carlo Zecchi finds a resplendent tribute in Obert-Thorn’s meticulous restoration.
Carlo Zecchi: The Complete Cetra Solo Recordings, works by BACH, SCARLATTI, VIVALDI, CHOPIN, DEBUSSY, SCHUBERT, SCHUMANN, TICCIATI, RAVEL, LISZT, GALILEE – Carlo Zecchi, piano/ Arrigo Tassinari, flute/ Giaconda da Vito, violin/ E.L.A.R. Symphony Orchestra/ Fernando Previtali – APR Recordings APR 6024 (2 CDs), TT: 2 hrs 32 mins (6/1/18) [Distr. by Naxos] *****:
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The name of Roman piano virtuoso Carlo Zecchi (1903-1984) brings to the minds of most auditors the talented conductor who often appeared on records with luminaries such as Clara Haskil. But Carlo Zecchi’s early fame rested on his apparently flawless pianism; and it may well astound collectors to witness the range of his repertory, given the arsenal of technical demands the various pieces incur. Editor and Restoration Engineer Mark Obert-Thorn has gathered the Cetra label recordings Zecchi made at the peak of solo career, which had been influenced through his brief but potent studies with Ferruccio Busoni in Berlin.
The set opens with Zecchi’s “concession” to ancient music, with two transcriptions by Ottorino Respighi of “Ancient Airs and Dances,” a Gagliarda and Siciliana (4 May 1937), played with lyrical fervor. The solidity of Zecchi’s technique and color capacity informs every bar of his ensuing four sonatas (2, 4 May 1937) by Domenico Scarlatti, of which the lithe C Major, K. 159 enjoys quicksilver figures and wonderful shape. No less diaphanous and fleet, the Bach transcription of Vivaldi’s G Major Concerto (2 May 1937) should enthrall all who delight in digital aerobics. The Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D Major from Turin 1938 follows two short works of varied temper, the pearly F-sharp Major Prelude and Fugue (from WTC I) and the meditative chorale transcribed by Max Reger, Ich ruf’ zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ, here (25 October 1942) transposed from its usual F minor into a more chromatic F-sharp minor. In the Brandenburg Concerto, Zecchi finds able assistance in the gracious flute part from Arrigo Tassinari and in the violin part from the esteemed virtuoso Giaconda da Vito (1907-1994) who found favor with Wilhelm Furtwaengler in his Italian tours. The ease and fluidity of performance finds Zecchi’s keyboard unobtrusive and restrained; but by degrees, in the first movement Allegro the keyboard cadenza arises naturally and luminously triumphant, much in the manner of Edwin Fischer. A stately, noble Adagio affetuoso allows us to savor Tassinari’s flute in tandem with da Vito, while the concluding Allegro delights in the spirit of the (canonic) dance in the form of an orchestrated trio-sonata.The often under-rated conductor Fernando Previtali (1907-1985) leads a responsive chamber ensemble.
The two remaining selections on Disc One move us into the realm of Romantic music—much of which evolved from studies with Artur Schnabel—with Schubert’s last of the Moments musicaux, that in A-flat Major, D. 780, No. 6 (rec. 4 July 1942). Zecchi exploits this marvelous Minuet and Trio for its harmonic shifts, especially those from A-flat into E Major and A-flat minor. The central section, in D-flat, gains from Zecchi’s pregnant pauses that urge unrest in the midst of apparent symmetries. Schumann’s Kinderszenen (4 July 1942) proffers one of the few performances I know from an Italian pianist, though Scarpini, Tipo, and Ciani championed Schumann. The Hasche-Mann proves robustly fleet. But Zecchi has a sensibility for Eusebius, too, witness the lift he gives both Bittendes Kind and Glueckes genug. The martial, poetic-fairy tale element dominates Wichtige Begebenheit. We might ascribe the poetic Traeumerei to Schnabel himself, but looking forward to colors we hear in the marvelous Poissons d’or (25 October 1942). Some lovely pedal and dynamic contrasts mark Am Kamin prior to a study, chivalric Ritter vom Steckenpferd. Eusebius reigns in the final quatrain of pieces, with Fuerchtenmachen’s emerging like a light-touch etude. The child then sleeps and the Poet dreams, or speaks, in veiled mysteries.
Disc 2 opens with a Cetra series of Liszt etudes, two from the “Paganini” series and the patented “La leggierezza” Etude (2 May 1937) that Zecchi claimed as his own calling-card. But do not ignore the panache of “La Chasse” Etude in E Major, whos remarkable speed does not sacrifice a moment of lustrous clarity. The “Arpeggio” Etude in E Major has all the fleet ingredients we might expect had we been listening Ricci’s violin. The tempered hues in registration in Zecchi’s “La leggierezza” testify to a master’s kinship with Liszt’s intent. The scalar runs evince a panoply of color, and Zecchi’s trills rival Hofmann’s for dragonfly transparency. Besides the 1937 incarnation, Obert-Thorn includes the (relatively muddy) 1930 version Zecchi made for Moscow’s MusTrust, the forerunner of the Melodiya label in Russia.
Much of this disc testifies to Zecchi’s mastery in the music of Chopin: Zecchi opens (2 May 1937) with the 2/4 Waltz No. 5 in A-flat Major, which bristles with rhythmic excitement, nervous energy, and a clarion top line. The plaintive Mazurka in A minor, Op. 17, No. 4 (25 October 1942), moves deftly in variation, with added grace notes and a poignant lilt. Some distortion in the original plagues an otherwise seamless concept. The Mazurka in C-sharp minor, Op. 30, No. 4 projects a militant mystery, aided by an alertly disturbed bass line. The Mazurka in B minor, Op. 33, No. 4 remains perhaps the most “Iberian” of the set, a model for the likes of Granados. The largesse in Zecchi’s design may have influenced the later version from Michelangeli. The virtues of the Zecchi jeweled style find their home in Chopin’s elegant Berceuse in D-flat, Op. 57 (25 October 1942), here in a music-box rendition that rivals my own preferred version by Solomon. The studied grace of the Barcarolle (4 May 1937) certifies to canny pedal technique and subtle gradations of harmonic-rhythm. Zecchi’s sense of (passionate) rubato and pellucid tone suit Chopin as elegantly as do those elements in Rubinstein or Cortot. The move from F-sharp minor into sunny A Major makes our gondola ride as refreshed as it has been erotic.
The two Chopin Op. 10 Etudes—in G-flat and F Major—come from the Paris-based Ultraphone label, recorded 1934/35. Sturdy as they are fluent, literate and poetic, they enjoy that fertile vocalism that urges Chpin beyond anything academic. The big Chopin work from these sessions, the Grande Polonaise brillante in E-flat, seems scaled to the salon rather than the concert hall. Its suave, gem-like flame, however, still burns in a muscular kaleidoscope of ravishing tones and shades. The other magnum opus from Chopin, the G minor Ballade, Op. 23, derives from Russia, 1930. Zecchi left us only this account of the most Neapolitan of the Chopin ballades, his “answer” to the Beethoven “Appassionata” Sonata. The reading, idiosyncratic and stylized, suffering from impaired piano tone, nevertheless possesses potent drama. Zecchi milks the repeated arpeggios and their harmonic inflections with due care, achieving a rhetorical intensity that carries its inevitable sense of ferocious closure.
The four remaining pieces carry their own sense of Zecchi’s personality. In May of 1937 Zecchi recorded Toccata by Francesco Ticciati, a glittering piece whose explosive fioritura conveys something of Moszkowski, cross-fertilized by militant Debussy harmony. The Debussy selection from Images, Book II (rec. 25 October 1942) delivers cascading, diaphanous tremolos, sudden, thrilling colors in the water as two Japanese fighting-fish literally transcend the lacquer medium of their musical depiction. In the 1934/35 Paris studio, Zecchi recorded another Scarlatti sonata, this is A Major, K. 113, a dazzling guitar piece in the manner of a toccata, featuring vivid, hurtling finger-work that easily rivals the kind of meteoric energy Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli would cultivate in another ten years. Lastly, from those same Ultraphone sessions, we have Ravel’s Alborada del gracioso from the Miroirs suite, whose flippant runs, glissandos, and repeated staccatos became immortalized in the recording by Dinu Lipatti. For Zecchi, too, the sense of the morning-song, haunted by the vestiges of the prior evening’s bacchanalia, becomes vivid, oppressive, undeniable, and once more delirious.
SCARLATTI: Five Sonatas
VIVALDI/BACH Concerto in C Major
BACH Prelude and Fugue No 13 in F sharp major
BACH/REGER Ich ruf’ zu dir, herr Jesu Christ
BACH Brandenburg Concerto No 5 in D major
SCHUBERT Moment musical in A flat
LISZT Two Paganini Études, Étude de concert ‘La leggierezza’
Waltz No 5 in A flat major, Mazurka Op 17 No 4, Op 30 No 4; Op 33 No 4
Berceuse in D flat major, Op 57, Barcarolle in F sharp major, Op 60
Études in G flat major, Op 10 No 5; F major, Op 10 No 8
Grande Polonaise in E flat major, Op 22
Ballade No 1 in G minor, Op 23
DEBUSSY Poisons d’or
RAVEL Alborada del gracioso