Piano Concerto No. 2.
Op. 70/1: Orchestral
and Piano Versions.
Theme and Variations,
Pietro Massa (pn); Stefan Malzew, cond; Neubrandenburg P
DELTA 90 052 (69:18)
Live: Neubrandenburg 11/11/2009
Giuseppe Martucci’s Second Piano Concerto enjoyed a certain vogue in the decades after its 1886 premiere. Anton Rubinstein included it in his repertory. The composer played it with Toscanini at La Scala in 1899. It was featured in the very last concert Gustav Mahler conducted, with the New York Philharmonic in 1911. The concerto’s subsequent neglect is not wholly unjustified. It is an absolute finger buster with an absence of hummable tunes. But in the sensitive hands of Pietro Massa, the concerto’s manifold delights come to life. In the opening movement, the piano takes on a larger than life personality, in both grandiose and reflective passages. Often the orchestra provides just a backdrop for the soloist, or a bridge between passages in which the piano dominates. The pianistic difficulties are as much in the expression as in the technicalities; this is a sort of Paganini concerto for piano. The second movement is deeply lyrical and rich, with more equality between piano and orchestra. The piano still gets the big climaxes, but there is a touching interlude for the orchestra. The last movement begins like a caprice, with the piano and orchestra alternating. The B section is mellifluous and warm. With its spiky charm, the piano part in this movement may remind you of Strauss’s
. The concerto is billed as a live recording: If Pietro Massa really performed it this way without editing, it’s a stunning technical achievement.
The orchestral version of Nocturne, with its gentle half tints, is Martucci’s most popular work. I heard a lovely performance of it in a concert given by James DePreist and the New Jersey Symphony. Stefan Malzew leads an equally beautiful rendition here, with sensitive playing from the orchestra’s first chairs. If you never have heard the Nocturne, it will remind you of the miniatures of Martucci’s contemporary Elgar, such as
. In the original piano version of Nocturne, Massa’s playing is as delectable as his playing in the concerto is extroverted. The other work for piano solo on the CD,
Theme and Variations
, is Brahmsian in design but with an Italianate lyricism. Its melodic lines always are clear and bright. The next to last variation is a brilliant take on the style of Chopin’s nocturnes, while the final variation is highly virtuosic. Massa’s performance is a joy. The Neubrandenburg Philharmonie, an orchestra new to me, acquits itself as well in the concerto as it does in Nocturne, while the sound engineering throughout the CD is warm and full, if lacking something in crispness. If you know Martucci’s Nocturne, this CD is a sensible way to explore his music further. The Second Piano Concerto especially enlightens a side of late 19th-century music that we often neglect. As Pietro Massa demonstrates, this has been our loss.