Martucci: Prelude, Toccata and Gigue, Op. 61; Three Romances, Op. 49; Three Scherzos, Op. 53; Three Pieces, Op. 64; Theme and Variations, Op. 58

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Martucci
LABELS: ASV
WORKS: Prelude, Toccata and Gigue, Op. 61; Three Romances, Op. 49; Three Scherzos, Op. 53; Three Pieces, Op. 64; Theme and Variations, Op. 58
PERFORMER: Francesco Caramiello (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CD DCA 897 DDD
Giuseppe Martucci was born in 1856 (two years before Puccini). His importance rests largely on his work as a conductor who opened up post-revolution Italy to a range of Romantic and modern influences (notably French and German). He anticipated the work of the Malipiero generation in revising and popularising the neglected Baroque.

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No one could deny the beauty of his lovely La canzona dei Ricordi for soprano and orchestra (also on ASV), or a handful of finely scored orchestral works. The piano music here, written in his early to mid-twenties, reveals a flair (an obsession?) for scherzo-type writing and calls for much technical brilliance, which Francesco Caramiello supplies.

I can’t say I detect much of an individual voice: too many pieces here feel like overspun Czerny studies – rhetoric sans substance, Liszt without the imagination, Busoni or Alkan without the weight. His poetic ‘Romances’ are thin Victorian, his storms the stuff of teacups.

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Caramiello rather reinforces this feel: he does a dutiful, strait-laced, rather cerebral job, but rarely gets far below the surface. His barcarolle doesn’t rock, his unfluid romances wouldn’t hook me, his rubatos tend to be unrevealing. A youthful performance, then: sparkling at times, but tending to emptiness. Perhaps he does the best with what he’s got (the A major and D flat Scherzos, for example). And the next in ASV’s series may yet unveil a few gems. The acoustic is appropriately drawing-room-like. Roderic Dunnett