Stimme aus der Ferne (“Voices from Afar”) – Andrea Botticelli, Fortepiano

by | Oct 4, 2021 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

STIMME aus der FERNE (“Voice from Afar”) = SCHUBERT: Sonata in A Major, D. 664; CZERNY: Variations on a Theme by Rode, “La Ricordanza,” Op. 33; SCHUMANN: Papillons, Op. 2; Novellette No. 8 from Op. 21; C. SCHUMANN: Notturno from Soirées musicales, Op. 6 – Andre Botticelli, fortepiano – 64:40 BANFF 01 [] ****:

Canadian pianist Andrea Botticelli has made a reputation in fortepiano performance, and she uses an instrument constructed in 2014 by Rodney Regier which
replicates the Viennese model of Conrad Graf from the 1830’s. The instrument meets the requirements of the period, featuring three pedals to modify the color
effects produced by the keyboard. The damper pedal, the una corda pedal, and the moderator pedal each contributes to the special timbres, particularly when a
sense of expressive intimacy is intended. The octave range of the instrument, 6.5, expands the capacity for color and rhetorical gesture from the older models of
the 19th Century, now accessing the lowest and highest notes of the keyboard. 

The rubric of the recital, “A Voice from the Distance” derives from a notation in the score of the Robert Schumann Novellette in F# Minor, which quotes, in
intimate dialogue, the Notturno from beloved Clara Schumann’s Soirées musicales, linking the two main sections of Robert’s meditation. The last of the little novels easily qualifies as the most complicated of the Op. 21 (1838) set, with two trios, respectively in D-flat Major and in D Major, the latter imitative of a hunting scene. More remarkable, Schumann breaks off the classical pattern of trio and reprise with a new pattern derived from the Clara Schumann Notturno, marked Fortsetzung und Schluss, continuation and ending, that will conclude in the “progressive tonality of D Major. Botticelli’s playing combines lyricism and declamation in poetic terms, sensitive and directly appealing, without bravura ostentation.

Botticelli opens with Schubert’s 1819 Piano Sonata in A Major, whose lovely, Austrian sensibility communicates grace and youthful optimism. Simplicity of expression competes with the ceaseless flow of melodic kernels in lulling harmonies. A bit of drama does erupt in the Allegro moderato’s development section, but the urge to serenity wins out. The fortepiano captures the salon intimacy of the work, though some auditors will miss the resounding bass of a modern Steinway or Yamaha. The Andante exploits a recurrent rhythmic pattern, one based on a long note followed by short notes, that proves enchanted. Botticelli, like Myra Hess in her classic reading, spins an idyll of compelling lyricism that moves subtly through shades of color. The last movement, Allegro, in sonata form, has something of the “Scottish snap” in its arsenal, yet still essentially Viennese in its contentment with a waltz impulse. The music still sings long after its closing measures.

Carl Czerny (1791-1857) belongs to piano students and pedagogues who cherish his etudes and exercises. He excelled, however, in brilliant concert-pieces and variations, which constitute over 800 listed works in his catalogue. His La Ricordanza Variations (1822) result from his having known a theme by Pierre Rode that soprano Angelica Catalani appropriated for her own use as a coloratura vehicle. “The Reminiscence” proves elegant and virtuosic, a theme and six variants, each derived from the opening Andante espressivo. The theme’s built-in trills alone provide plenty of bravura possibilities for digital display. Between legato expression and high-flying ornaments in the upper registers, Botticelli’s fortepiano exhibits its capacity for ardent, blended coloration. The Vivace variant, No. 3, dances and swirls with all of the allure of Degas and Lautrec. The No. 4, Sostenuto, attempts a more operatic aria, studied and heartfelt. For pure bravura wrist action and octave hurricanes, the Variation 5 has few competitors, except perhaps in Mendelssohn. The last variant returns to our theme, Tempo primo, a farewell to a dream vision of plastic beguilement.

Botticelli then addresses Robert Schumann’s Papillons (1828-1831), his purported effort to translate Jean-Paul Richter’s novel Flegeljahre (“Years of Indiscretion”) into music, although the first ten of the twelve sections had been composed before Schumann had read the book, so only the last two pieces – Polonaise and Finale – allude to the novel’s masked ball, Larventanz, sequence in its last chapter. Schumann’s introduction establishes a theme in octaves whose stability becomes harmonically disrupted in four measures. The music returns to its placid opening. The second waltz graphically depicts a butterfly motion in 8th notes, while third piece, another waltz, takes a more martial approach and then engages in a canon. The fifth section presents a slightly askew polonaise, chromatic and dissonant in its passing harmonies. The most Viennese moment occurs in the No. 8, another fervent waltz. The number 9, prestissimo, briskly rendered, relents into sluggish dance. The piu lento of No. 10 contrast with its martial opening, Vivo, in order to insert a romance that hints at the music’s opening sequence. The polonaise that follows brings us images of Florestan in Schumann’s personal lexicon of personae, while the last section quotes an old Grossvaterlied, usually associated with wedding celebrations. Our fortepianist must hold the D for 26 bars of program music, until the clock strikes the hour for the ball to end, and the guests depart. 

Clara Schumann’s Op. 6, No. 2, Notturno, projects the falling five-note motif she and Robert shared as a “forbidden motif” in their cabal against her father. The inner, contrapuntal voices of Clara’s piece held intimate significance for her and Robert, and its opening, surface sound may well resonate in the last movement of Robert’s marvelous Fantasie, Op 17. The fortepiano, as the instrument of choice, no less contributes to the “Voice from the Distance” of time and sound. In her program notes, Andrea Botticelli mentions the “creative synergy” between the two kindred spirits, here linked for the first time in their respective pieces. Clara’s last page fades into a rare aether of romance.

–Gary Lemco

For more information, please visit Andrea Bottecelli’s website:

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Andrea Botticelli, Stimme Aus Der Ferne, Album Cover



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