Carlo Zecchi, piano, playing his 1926 interpretations – The Welte-Mignon Mystery Vol. X – Works by SCARLATTI, ALALEONA, PIZZETTI, BAJARDI, CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO, GASCO, CASELLA, DAVICO & STRAVINSKY – Tacet 160, 56:02 *****:
As I’ve stressed in reviews of previous entries in this Tacet series, these are recordings which were made in the early part of the last century, but the actual performances just happened recently off the original hi-tech piano rolls and were recorded digitally in stereo using a modern Steinway Model D. The Welte-Mignon system – invented in 1904 – was way ahead of all the other piano roll processes and promised a closer realization of the various pianists’ recordings than any other – certainly better than 78 rpm shellacs allowed until at least the 1930s. There have been many reissues of some of these specialized piano rolls – which include rolls cut by such as Granados, Reger, Saint-Saens and Dohnanyi themselves – but none on CD have equaled the convincing sound of these Tacet releases.
Telarc issued a couple of excellent Rachmaninoff piano rolls which were reprocessed via computer for performance on a Yamaha Disklavier reproducing piano, but for these Tacet releases one of the actual original Vorsetzer gadgets – which has 88 fingers and rolls up to any grand piano to play back the rolls – was employed after much tuning, modification and maintenance on the mechanism by an expert in the Welte-Mignon system. The results are quite amazing. About the only subtle interpretation aspect which the Welte couldn’t communicate was differing volume levels of notes within a chord, but that would be very difficult to identify. There is much less of the mechanical rhythm of typical piano rolls with these Welte reissues than any I have heard previously.
An unusual aspect of this CD is the up-to-date nature of Zecchi’s repertory. Some of the Welte rolls are of selections which were popular at the time but considered out of favor parlor piano fodder today. Zecchi was only 22 at the time, a pupil of both Busoni and Arthur Schnabel, and for the period his selections would even be considered a bit risqué. Wanda Landowska was just beginning to perform the harpsichord sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti and Zecchi bravely recorded his piano versions of two of them to start the program. Remember this was way in advance of Ralph Kirkpatrick’s Scarlatti editions. The whole program is terrific, but the other big item – in its 16 minute length too – is one of the first performances of Stravinsky’s piano transcription of three sections from his Petrouchka ballet. Zecchi plays it with just as much flair and Stravinskian preciseness as one would hear in a modern piano performance. The other short works are mostly forgotten today but all seven of them are enjoyable listening and show why this bold young pianist was getting attention in Europe and the invitation to record for the Welte company. This would be a highly recommended introduction for anyone to the unique Welte piano rolls.
– John Sunier