SGAMBATI Complete Piano Music Volume 2 – Gaia Federica Caporiccio – Piano Classics

by | Feb 12, 2024 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

SGAMBATI Complete Piano Music Volume 2 – Gaia Federica Caporiccio, piano – PIANO CLASSICS PCL10252 (2 CDs: 132: 20, complete content listing below) (9/12/23) [Distr. by Naxos] ****: 

Giovanni Sgambati (1841–1914), born in Rome and a graduate of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, came to the attention of the touring Franz Liszt, and the two established headquarters for Liszt’s Roman school, in order to increase appreciate of classical music among Roman society. Through Liszt, Sgambati in Munich met Richard Wagner, who recommended Sgambati’s compositions to the publisher Schott. In 1874, Sgambati and violinist Ettore Pinelli founded the Liceo di Santa Cecilia, a school charging no fee to indigent, talented musicians. In 1881, after the death of Nikolai Rubinstein, the Moscow “Conservatory offered Sgambati the directorship, which he refused, in order to extend his influence on Italy’s musical culture. When Sgambati died in 1914, any number of Italian musicians paid him homage, having recalled that the works of Beethoven, Schumann, Liszt, Chopin, and Bach had illuminated their lives entirely due to his efforts.
A quick canvass of the various sets of pieces selected and recorded (March 2023) by pianist Caporiccio reveals Sgambati’s predilection for terse, concentrated dance forms and character pieces: all but three pieces take fewer than 5 minutes to perform, while only one lasts 6 minutes. In her accompanying note, Caporiccio notes the influence of Liszt on these pieces, though Sgambati seems less concerned with bravura for its own sake. The various Classical works, Preludes and Fugues, Nocturnes, and Studies, fall naturally under the hands while releasing the expressive range of the keyboard.

Caporiccio’s opening set of 12 Mélodies poétiques (1903) offers a brief “Prealudium” that signifies a set of pieces fashioned in an accessible, lyric mode, akin to much of Grieg, but less inclined to modal harmony. The “Canzonetta d’Aprile,” except for a few bright runs, remains a predictable lyric. “Revelazione” exploits the upper registers in salon style, the bass occasionally swelling to underline the texture. “Sull’altalena” translates to “Swinging,” and this piece suggests an illumined barcarolle in easy, harmonic motion. More adventurous, “Preghiera turbata,” or “Fitful Prayer,” sojourns into the depths, though tentatively. So, too, “Ansietà, or “Anxiety,” demonstrates some real emotion in octaves that burst forth ff to resonate beyond the double bar. Little revelatory in the “En valsant” or the lightly declamatory “Dolci confidenze.” “Marche” sounds a bit amateurish, a student exercise in variable dynamics and touches. “Anima appassionata” takes Romantic gestures from Mendelssohn or Schumann to offer a moment of rapture less influenced by cliché. “Profondo pena,” or “Deep Sorrow” allows some passing dissonances to intrude in the course of a martial progress. The final entry, “Cantico di Esperanza,” a “Song of Hope,” addresses its major key flurry of chorale harmonies with a sense of assertion. The bell tones have something of Albéniz and Ravel, but less inspired.
The Trois morceaux, op. 42 (1909–10) immediately, with the opening Prelude in c#, reveals a debt to Chopin of the études, here in boldly virtuosic terms. The succeeding Berceuse-Rêverie in G-flat takes us to the harmonic domain of Debussy or Fauré, suggestively modal. Its expansive second half seems more of a hybrid of styles, alternately playfully rhythmic and parlando. Pianist Caporiccio allots this piece a degree of color to entice us to more hearings. The last of the triptych, Melodia campestre (Impromptu) in F, once more balances harmonies attributable to Spain or Liszt, a richly harmonized study that relishes octaves and colored arpeggios.

The Schott edition of the op. 12 Fogli Volanti (“Flying Pages”) lists the year of publication as 1881, though the date and opus number remain debated. The set of 8 pieces reflects a strong Schumann influence in its use of staggered melodic kernels over ripe, arpeggiated chords.  Certainly, the opening “Romanza” indulges us in flowing gestures whose watery texture eventually breaks off into a parlando epilogue with a shimmering coda. The more martial “Canzonettta” possesses a somber lyricism, four-square, touched by melancholy, close to a Chopin polonaise from his op 26.  The No. 3 “Idillio,” sets forth in a folksy E-flat, a brief, faux-rustic moment. Another short piece, “Marcia,” has the gait of something from Sigmund Romberg. The No. 5, “Vecchio castello,” will encourage comparisons to Mussorgsky’s old castle, but the Russian proves the more natural lyricist, since Sgambati relies on the Beethoven Fifth motif as his unifying element. “Épanouissement” suggests the blooming of a flower, hence, perhaps a kinship with Schumann’s op 19. Sgambati’s short “Flower piece” seems heavy, over-ripe in the bass and infused with passing dissonance. On the contrary, the No. 7 “Combattimento” proffers minor key staccato and tremolo octaves to insist on its militancy. But the final piece, “Campane a festa” in D-flat, provides liquid consolation, a brightly colored lyric that allows the treble to sing without any shade of angst.
Disc 1 concludes with the suite of Quattro Pezzi di Seguito of 1885, the music yet another nod to Robert Schumann. The opening “Preludio” urges a somber gait in eighth notes that surge with some repetitive, dramatic power. Suddenly, with “Vecchio minuetto,” we enter the world of the commedia dell’arte, whose mincing, trilled dance steps in olden style suggest a formal, courtly occasion. The third movement, “Nenia,” occupies pride of place in the suite, its name derived from an old Roman funeral tune. The parlando melody that sets the tone receives some richly thick tapestry that rings with fervor from Schumann and Liszt, as we witnessed in the prior Mélodies poetiques. The final entry, “Toccata,” demonstrates pure digital facility in running 16ths and some rhythmic shifts that permit our artist, Caporiccio, her excursions into rubato. Despite the velocities and passing voluptuousness of the (Chopinesque) filigree, the piece remains within the confines of the sophisticate’s salon. 

Disc 2 offers a compendium of short, compressed suites and miscellaneous solo pieces, some previously unpublished and undocumented. The Suite in b (1888) opens with a deftly liquid “Prelude” in an angular, modal style close to that of Dukas or Roussel, more virtuoso toccata than prelude. The expansive, sectionalized “Valse” (in B minor) possesses both a tread and agogic irregularity easily suggestive of the styles of late Chopin and romantic Fauré.  The ensuing “air” extends the B minor affect, dark and introspectively solemn, its chromatic bass line the point of interest, until the last pages exert passion and rhythmic flexibility. “Intermezzo” alters the key to a bright E major, a mincing-step, court dance that, through ornaments, achieves a degree of both lightness and hints of passion. As a concluding tour de force, we have the “Étude mélodique,” which savors luxuriant 32nd notes in wispy, transparent acceleration. As a fluid toccata for right hand stamina and articulation, the piece makes an excellent study. The coda provides an epilogue no less bravura in execution.

The initially, stormily aggressive Valse brillante in E, undated, soon settles down emotionally into more civil regions, having become a witty, suave salon dance reminiscent of Gottschalk, in its capacity to swell in girth and then retreat to demure shyness. The Scherzo in E enjoys a Spanish character, close in spirit to agile Chabrier. A hybrid dance, it flutters in waltz tempo with temptations to become, intermittently, a mazurka, a nocturne, and always an étude. The Scherzo sensibility wins out. The Toccata engages in various (Iberian) dance patterns, some of which suggest a malaguena. The middle section transforms into a romantic study in rich arpeggios, repetitive but mesmeric as they ascend the keyboard. Of the two Romanzas, one in F and one in A, only the latter is listed for its year, 1878. That in F has a nervous luxury about it, somewhat in the style of Liszt or Fauré. The Romanza in A enjoys a liquidly melodic medium close to one of the Liszt Liebesträume pieces, the top treble line quite captivating. Follow two “Mestizia” (“Sadness”) studies, the first a lyric in improvised fashion, another hybrid piece, part nocturne, part ballade, in a highly trilled, Chopinesque, salon style. The Mélodie-Impromptu carries the parenthetic title “Mestizia, II versione,” bearing the same tuneful contour and treated with more “asides” in meditative character.

The 1916 Boîte à musique provides Caporiccio with one excerpt, the “Badinage,” a virtual carillon of studied, bell-effects in the high treble, shimmering in the manner of a Christmas ornament. As a study in ostinato, the piece has resonant value. The next group of three, terse pieces bear no date or listing in the Sgambati catalogue: the witty Serenatina in E, with its Chabrier lilt; the haunted Presentimento in plangent, broken melodic fragments; and the Preludio, a clear evocation of passionate Fauré, a salon nocturne in romantic rhetoric.

Finally, the suite Fantasie-Alpestri, conceived over a period of ten years, 18721882. Originally in seven sections, Caporiccio plays six, omitting the No. 3 “Scherzo da capo.” Each of the remaining sections – excepting the final two, “Diavoleria” and “Canto di Guerra” – prove cleverly concise and light-hearted, easily accessible to the fingers. These last items deliberately court percussive aggression, which Caporiccio delivers with fierce aplomb. 

—Gary Lemco 

SGAMBATI Complete Piano Music Volume 2

Mélodies poétiques, op. 36;
Trois morceaux, op. 42;
Fogli volante, op. 12;
Quattro Pezzi di Seguito, op. 18;
Suite, op. 21. Valse brillante;
Scherzo in E; Toccata;
Romanza in F;
Romanza in A;
Boîte à musique – Badinage;
Serenatina in E;
Fantasie Alpestri

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Album Cover for Caporiccio playing Sgambati Piano Music for Fanfare

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