Dino Ciani Vol. 2 = Works by BARTOK; BEETHOVEN; CHOPIN; LISZT; MENDELSSOHN; SCHUBERT; SCHUMANN; TCHAIKOVSKY [Complete List of Compositions Appended] – Dino Ciani, piano/ Orchestre Philharmonique de l’ORTF/ Aldo Ceccato – Doremi DHR-8044 (3 CDs) 79:30; 80:10; 77:40 (1/20/17) [www.doremi.com] *****:
Among the most poetic of the disciples of Alfred Cortot, Italian pianist Dino Ciani (1942-1974) continues to enjoy a cult following that always seeks further documentation of his splendid gifts. This second volume of recorded performances, 1961-1973, well supplements the Volume One from the “Legendary Treasures” division of Doremi, which included Beethoven Piano Concertos in C Major and C minor. The major offering, the 1971 Chopin E Minor Concerto from Paris (26 November), features Ciani’s natural and spontaneous plasticity of phrase and a voluptuously incensed orchestral contribution from Aldo Ceccato (b. 1934), whose own credentials include work with Sergiu Celibidache and his having married the daughter of esteemed maestro Victor de Sabata.
The ensuing Nocturne in C-sharp Minor creates a mysteriously lulling affect, rising to a limpid E Major in an unbroken, poetic line. The live 1973 Chopin B Minor Sonata I find rather brisk in tempo in the first movement, but the periods never sound mechanical or glib; the pulse and epic, rhythmic drama evolve organically, especially given the slight metric variations in the repeat. The Scherzo exhibits the impulsive power we glean in Ciani’s Beethoven, but cast in Chopin’s idiosyncratic, reflective style. An immediate attacca to the grand Largo transports us into that self-enclosed world of nostalgia or tesknota that surpatheth understanding. The Finale: Presto resounds with the demonism that marks the other great ones in this music: Rubinstein, Kapell, Casadesus, and Reisenberg.
The 1873 Tchaikovsky Nocturne from the Six Morceaux bears a magical, ingenuous character, Schumann with a “forward” sense of Tchaikovsky’s naïve charm in The Nutcracker. Mendelssohn’s Spinning Song hardly needs explanation beyond mentioning the pianist’s solid wrist action. Fleet and eminently adept, the version has much of Josef Hofmann’s fluid dexterity. Ciani performs the 1825 set of Beethoven’s Op. 126 Bagatelles in Florence, 14 February 1970. These six, concentrated clusters of musical matter that, after the second piece, proceed, key-wise, in descending major thirds, have an explosive or meditative power typical of any Beethoven nucleus. Those in G minor and B minor project their own, compulsive and manic energy. For sheer arioso beauty, the third, marked Andante, Cantabile e grazioso in E-flat enjoys Ciani’s transparent sonority.
We skip three years to 14 November 1973 for the Beethoven group of sonatas given in Verona. The impishly Haydn-like Scherzo m the 1799 Sonata No. 10 in G Major conveys much of Ciani’s youthful vigor, as well as Beethoven’s irreverence for bar lines. Ciani’s Tempest Sonata first movement seems wrought from one dramatic impulse born of the harmonic competition between A Major and D minor, the rolled chords and whirls and tremolos that surround the melancholy theme that will eventually quote Bach’s Es ist Vollbracht from the St. John Passion verbatim. The second movement Adagio combines a mournful, arpeggiated tune that arouses a drum-figure that soon accompanies a dolce melody of tender simplicity. Ciani plays the Allegretto at first as a slow perpetuum mobile, more lyrically tragic than a propelled gallop. The sudden onrushes of anguish deepen the valedictory mood. The registers themselves compete for supremacy in the emotional urgency. Ciani’s diminuendos must be heard to appreciate his dynamic gradations, more reminiscent of Gieseking than of Cortot. Poise, clarity, dark poetry all coalesce into a performance of immense stature.
The A-flat Sonata, Op. 110 (1821) that follows marks another masterpiece of musical concision, rife with broad pedal points and expressive trills in all of the keyboard’s registers. That Ciani makes the whole, thoughtful concept sing effortlessly convinces us that the young man, like Lipatti, bore a star on his brow. That whom the gods love, they kill. As gentle and “amiable” as the first movement proves, the raucous F minor scherzo and trio of the second movement – based on two earthy German songs, in the manner of Bach’s quodlibet in the Goldberg Variations – has Ciani pounding in 2/4 with anything but subtlety until the last chord. If Bach had already informed Op. 31, No. 2, the fugue of this sonata will deliver us from evil. The opening section, a recitative, Adagio ma non troppo and the ensuing Arioso dolente pray for salvation; and Beethoven provides rising fourths for his fugue, whose motive will play inversely when it delicately appears a second time after ten pained chords in slow crescendo. To hear the young pianist’s bass harmonies becomes, by hindsight, a foreboding of his own tragic fate by car crash.
Like Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, Dino Ciani sees the 1797 “Grande Sonata”in E-flat Major as an epic on an emotional par with the “Appassionara.” Ciani adopts a moderato opening tempo for the Allegro molto e con brio, so that its later tempests and syncopes remain manageable. Quietude and sudden sforzandos alternate to declare Beethoven’s independence from anything in the nearby Haydn world. Beethoven knew that his second movement, Largo in C Major, presented a potent emotional dimension. Ciani’s is a studied approach, suddenly explosive but quickly simmering and moving with a pizzicato bass that internalizes the subjective drama. The pregnant silences prove equally stirring, much in the manner of the piano score that gives us unease in Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. The Allegro third movement cavorts humorously, and its middle section in E-flat minor drums forth in a triplet hint of sturm und drang. The last movement Rondo: Poco allegretto e grazioso bids farewell to the Vienna of Mozart and Haydn. Its one forward moment occurs in Beethoven’s favorite C minor. For a relatively young man’s rendition of this profound work, we have from a Ciani a marvelously mature performance.
Disc 2 of the Doremi set, first extending his 1970 appearance in Florence (after the Beethoven Op. 126) with Bartok’s five-movement suite Out of Doors, then maintains the Hungarian ethos with music (from 1965) of Liszt and Schubert. The explicitly percussive style of Bartok’s 1926 Out of Doors well suits Ciani’s temperament, which delights in syncopations. The “With Drums and Pipes” first movement, in E, parodies a Hungarian folk song, the end of which segues into the brief “Barcarolle.” Ciani intones the “Musettes” third movement in G with a feeling of bagpipes and cembalom. “The Night’s Music” in A has an eerie, static vapor that Ligeti could inhale forever. Bird and frog sounds occur randomly, fodder for Messaien that evolves into a “Kubrick” chorale. Tritones and octave scales permeate the five sections of “The Chase.” The bravura request of 160 dotted quarter notes per minute intimidates Ciani not at all.
Liszt’s 1852 treatment of Bach’s Cantata 12 (“Weeping, wailing, sorrowing, fearing”) confronts us with an incredibly chromatic work for the period, a true transition into the ethos of post-Romanticism. Ciani builds a titanic structure, uncompromising in its passionate intensity. There pass moments reminiscent of the B Minor Sonata, but the temper projects more rage and emotional anguish, here at the October 1961 Liszt-Bartok Competition. Liszt himself seems to appear in the extended parlando-recitative, wandering through catacombs in which a three-note motif and ostinato descend into Dante’s depths. The ascent – more an assault – thunders forth in a combination of Bach and apoplexy. Suddenly, a chorale offers succor, a redemptive light in the midst of what had been reeling darkness. A grand resolve urges or staggers forth, perhaps indicative of the desperate personal crises Liszt faced at the time.
What a shift we experience in the familiar A-flat Liebestraum, a melting romance and gratitude for life’s consolations. Even here, Ciani’s gestures assume a grandiose, voluptuary’s embrace of the moment. Chasse-Neige, the last of the Transcendental Etudes, depicts the blizzard or whirling snows of both weather and mind. The constant tremolos and cascading chords combine to stunning, even punishing, effect. Ciani delivers mighty octaves for the Quasi cadenza that, under his hands, grips us in the manner of church bells. The final Liszt piece, the deft crowd-pleaser La Campanella Etude from Paganini, will ask you to chose among his, Cziffra’s, or Nojima’s for a favorite.
On this same disc we have two brief Schumann excerpts from larger suites and two lovely Schubert Impromptus from D. 899. The mysterious Prophet-Bird flitters in the mind as upon the branch. Liquid sighs mark “Warum?” from the Op. 12 Fantasy-Pieces, repetitive and antiphonal, love’s ultimate riddle. The two Schubert impromptus repeat those same beauties Lipatti proffers at his last recital in Besancon. Coincidence, no doubt.
Contents of Vol. 2:
BARTOK: Out of Doors – Suite
BEETHOVEN: Bagatelles, Op. 126; Piano Sonata No. 4 in E-flat Major, Op. 7; Piano Sonata No. 17 in D minor, Op. 31, No. 2; Piano Sonata No. 31 in A-flat Major, Op. 110; Piano Sonata No. 10 in G Major, Op. 14, No. 2: Scherzo
CHOPIN: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 11; Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58; Nocturne No. 7 in C-sharp minor, Op. 27, No. 1
LISZT: Variations on Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen; Liebestraum No. 3; Chasse-Neige; “La Campanella” Etude
MENDELSSOHN: Song without Words, Op. 67, No. 4
SCHUBERT: Impromptus, OP. 90: Nos 2-3
SCHUMANN: Vogels als Prophet, Op. 82, No. 7; Warum? Op. 12, No. 3
TCHAIKOVSKY: Nocturne in C-sharp minor, Op. 19, No. 4