Giuseppe Martucci (1856-1909)
6 Pezzi, Op. 44 (1880)
Novella, Op. 50 (1891)
Fantasia, Op. 51 (1888)
2 Notturni, Op. 70
Alberto Miodini, piano
(2016) – TT 70:05
In a nutshell:
• Martucci writes in the idiom of Chopin, Liszt, Mendelssohn, and Anton Rubinstein and will appeal to Romantic pianophiles.
• “6 Pezzi” is a cross-over of light salon and concert pieces, like the dramatic “Pezzo fantastico,” the infectious “Color orientale” with an ear-worm theme, and the exuberant “Tarantella.”
• “Fantasia” is a 12-minute virtuoso affair of difficult passagework and grandeur, while the two “Notturni” are pensive and expressive miniatures worth hearing.
• Performances by Alberto Miodini (piano) are dashing, expressive, and technically assured.
Like his colleague Sgambati, Giuseppe Martucci (1856-1909) made the intrepid choice of being an instrumental composer in opera-dominated Italy. He knew Liszt and Anton Rubinstein, developed an affinity for German Romanticism, and taught a generation of Italian composers. I was not impressed by his music for cello and piano, but after hearing these piano works, it’s clear he was in his element as a pianist-composer. No where is this more apparent than in the 6 Pezzi op. 44, a bundle of light salon and concert pieces assimilating the aesthetics of Chopin, Mendelssohn, Liszt, and Rubinstein.
“Pezzo fantastico” stands out for its extroverted patter and stentorian chordal writing, with a theme resembling Paganini. In one instance it captures the airy lightness of Mendelssohn and then swells with grandiose arpeggios and broken chords straight out of Liszt’s playbook. For me, “Color orientale” is a guilty pleasure. It has a jaunty march theme reminiscent of Liszt and Rubinstein that, for all its banality, is like a commercial jingle that won’t leave my head. Both the “Barcarola” and “Notturno” inhabit Chopin’s world; both are tender and innocuous with agitated central sections. “Notturno” is slightly more inventive with its constant fluctuations between major and minor, teasingly filling out the harmony with unexpected chromaticism. Finally, the “Tarantella” is a brilliant concert piece with florid writing reminiscent of Thalberg.
In his longer essays like the “Novella” and “Fantasia”—both over 11 minutes—Martucci can be overly rhapsodic and long-winded. “Novella” is a stab at the Chopinesque Scherzo with mixed results. “Fantasia” is better: a blustery and passionate piece with big chordal and arpeggiated convulsions, imitative counterpoint, Mendelssohnian note-spinning, and some decent melodic content to boot. The 2 Notturni op. 70 are bewitching jewels of melancholy and display a progression in Martucci’s harmonic language. The first in G-flat major swims in waters of yearning nostalgia with a nice upper voice in the right hand. The second in F-sharp minor is more somber with chromatic dissonance in spades and a coda flirting with Scriabin.
Alberto Miodini is well known as a member of the Trio di Parma, but he demonstrates remarkable chops as a concert soloist. These are limber, joyful, and spirited performances.
Martucci – Works & Recordings