Martucci – Piano Trios, Quintet, Music for String Quartet

Giuseppe Martucci (1856-1909)
Piano Trio No. 1 in C major, Op. 59 (1882)
Piano Quintet in C major, Op. 43 (1877)
Piano Trio No. 2 in E-flat major, Op. 62 (1883)
Momento Musicale for String Quartet
Minuetto for String Quartet
Three Pieces of Handel Transcribed for String Quartet

Quartetto Noferini
Roberto Noferini, violin
Federico Parravicini, violin
Anna Noferini, viola
Andrea Noferini, cello

Maria Semeraro, piano

 (2016) – TT 78:01 (CD1) 64:30 (CD2)

Martucci’s Best Efforts – Heavy, Sinewy, and Full-Blooded Chamber Works for Brahms Lovers


In a nutshell:
• Martucci channels Brahms in these big-boned, lush, and brawny chamber works.
• Piano Trio No. 1 in C major is a minor masterpiece: weighty, dramatic, full of passion and emotional depth. In the realm of second-tier Brahmsian trios, this is one of the very best I’ve heard.
• Piano Trio No. 2 in E-flat major is gentler and less profound than No. 1, but still loaded with compelling ideas and expressive import.
• Piano Quintet in C major is described in Cobbett’s Cyclopedic Survey of Chamber Music as “ingenious, massive, poetic and high art.”
• The five small pieces for string quartet are innocuous dances, including the Handel transcriptions, each roughly 2 minutes long.
• Quartetto Noferini delivers a powerful reading of these magisterial works. Their tempos are slower than Trio Vega, but that’s a virtue here. Note: they observe repeats. Maria Semeraro (piano) is a formidable presence with a versatile palette of touch, from heaven-storming to achingly tender.

Like his colleague Sgambati, Giuseppe Martucci (1856-1909) sought to revive instrumental music in opera-dominated Italy. He did much to introduce German Romanticism to the public and his own works reveal an affinity for Liszt, Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Brahms. I was not impressed by his music for cello and piano, but I am stunned by the stature of these two piano trios and the quintet. They have been recorded before on Claves, while the two trios recently appeared on Naxos. But this is the first time both trios and the quintet are issued together in a 2-CD set. More importantly, the caliber of performance here has a decided edge over Trio Vega on Naxos. Quartetto Noferini not only plays better, but unlike Vega, they take the exposition repeats.

Piano Trio No. 1 in C Major, op. 59 (1882) is one of the greatest Brahmsian trios I’ve heard in years; right up there with those of Herzogenberg and Röntgen. It opens with a big, heavy, and impassioned “Allegro giusto” with fantastic thematic material that reminds me of Liszt’s Un Sospiro. Indeed, the piano is consistently robust and intensely active. An eventful development of Brahmsian ferocity and dramatic strains of passion follows. There are so many elements to be in awe of: the emotional depth, magisterial part-writing, and thick sonorities generated by the ensemble. Next is a scurrying and turbulent “Scherzo” hurling forward by a vigorous piano part. Like the first movement, the melancholy “Andante con moto” exudes inspiration and expressive purpose. Lush harmony, waves of passion, and dark-hued cello writing are notable features. The work finishes with a triumphal “Allegro risoluto” balancing light patter and tension, all dressed in Brahmsian accoutrements.

According to Silvertrust, “Cobbett’s Cyclopedic Survey of Chamber Music devotes four pages to Martucci’s Piano Quintet, calling it expressive, ingenious, massive, poetic and high art.” Like the trios, the Piano Quintet in C major, op. 45 (1877) is grandiose and shot through with the essence of Brahms. Martucci sets the stage for this heavyweight masterpiece with a virile “Allegro giusto” of steady quality. The piano writing is dynamic, crashing loudly during climaxes or gently angelic in tender passages. A meditative “Andanto con moto” follows, an exemplar of felicity and searching lyricism, yielding to a somber central section. The “Scherzo” embraces its bright major key despite the occasional spike of brooding tension. There’s a great contrapuntal section of sweeping pianism and soaring strings. Martucci tricks the ear in this movement, which sounds through-composed if not for a very short and truncated reprise of the scherzo theme in the final 30 seconds of a 7-minute movement.

Coming off the heels of the first trio, the Piano Trio No. 2 in E-flat major, Op.62 (1883) is less imposing and dramatic, but still supplies verdant Brahmsian elegance. With repeats taken, this trio amounts to a colossal 50-minute work, beginning with an autumnal and lyrical “Allegro” with many emotional contrasts in the development. As a curious divergence, Martucci’s bold “Scherzo” is highly dissonant, angular, and unstable. Its anxiously pulsing piano part suggests alarm bells, while the awkward rhythms and stabs of dissonance are extraordinary for the 1880s. The ensuing “Adagio” ebbs and flows between tenderness and vehemence. Finally, the piece ends in life-affirming triumph, employing a lively texture dominated by repeated notes. Several smaller pieces for string quartet are included, but these are trifles and easy to ignore after the three weighty chamber works preceding them. Even the Handel transcriptions are innocuous 2-minute dances.

Quartetto Noferini, an ensemble of siblings, delivers a powerful reading of these magisterial works, projecting a big sound and dynamic vitality while squeezing so much beauty out of the harmonies and melodic contours. Their tempos are slower than Trio Vega, but that’s a virtue in this case. A leisurely approach and long-breathed sustains are especially necessary in the slow movements. Pianist Maria Semeraro is also a formidable presence: muscular, emotionally invested, and intense.


Martucci – Works & Recordings

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