Author Topic: The Italian Invasion  (Read 18115 times)

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Offline Todd

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The Italian Invasion
« on: May 30, 2015, 10:20:10 AM »



Disc one of seven from various artists who record for UMG Italy, in this case under the Decca banner.  Ramin Bahrami is a Bach specialist, and this disc is but one of many he has recorded.  All six suites fit on one disc and take just over seventy minutes.  While Bahrami can and does play swiftly at times, the brevity is the result mostly of stripping out repeats.  The playing is excellent throughout and always very clear.  It is easy to follow melodic lines, and the playing is chock full of little details, aided by the recording.  Bahrami's dynamic range is limited as recorded, but displays very fine gradation within the limited range.  Tone is generally attracive and warm, and Bahrami never tries to treat the piano like a harpsichord. 

About the recording, it is very close and a bit soft, rather like an updated version of some Thomas Frost productions of old. 

Bahrami's playing is good enough that I will probably try at least his take on the English Suites.  I can't write that I prefer his playing to Andras Schiff's in these pieces, but that's a pretty tough standard to match, at least for me.
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Offline Todd

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Re: The Italian Invasion
« Reply #1 on: May 31, 2015, 02:43:58 PM »




Disc 2.  Giuseppe Albanese's concept album, Fantasia, on DG.  The disc contains three warhorses – LvB's Moonlight Sonata (a quasi fantasia, of course), Schubert's Wanderer Fantaise, and Schumann's Fantaisie.  Albanese's take on the works is fairly conventional in terms of tempi and phrasing and style.  As recorded and presented, Albanese is a big picture, big sonority pianist.  And I mean big.  Fine details often get blurred.  Melody often dominates accompaniment.  The loudest passages, while never hard or ugly, do sound congested at times.  Albanese never really seems to play quietly, and instead takes flight as he moves from mezzo forte to forte and fortissimo.  Part of this may be due to the fact that the Pedrotti Auditorium appears to be a little small, or at least too small for Albanese's playing to fully expand.  Albanese sounds like he needs a bigger auditorium and more distant microphone placement to catch him at his best.  He's certainly able to play the music on offer handily, and all are well done, if not world beaters.

Glancing at his repertoire, his tastes are wide ranging and not especially specialized.  I think he could deliver a very fine Brahms First PC, and Brahms and Scriabin solo works might be worth a listen, too.  I'm probably not going to explore his pre-DG recordings, and I'll keep an eye out for what, if anything, he records for the yellow label going forward before sampling more.

Packaging seems to be targeted at the international market, but for now it is, as far as I can tell, an Italian market release.
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Offline XB-70 Valkyrie

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Re: The Italian Invasion
« Reply #2 on: May 31, 2015, 10:13:11 PM »
« Last Edit: May 31, 2015, 10:16:08 PM by XB-70 Valkyrie »
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Offline Todd

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Re: The Italian Invasion
« Reply #3 on: June 01, 2015, 06:13:41 PM »




Disc 3.  Vanessa Benelli Mosell's Decca debut.  The extremely photogenic young pianist gets the full glamour treatment, with a closely cropped head shot on the cover, a more relaxed portrait on the back, and multiple sexy outfit shots in the booklet, including what looks almost like a gray nightgown in one shot.  No doubt about it, Ms Benelli Mosell is beautiful.  She's a marketing person's dream.  But there's more to the pianist than that.

Her two prior discs have more standard fare, with a healthy dollop of Liszt, but this disc is about modern music, and then some.  The 'then some' is a selection of eight of Karlheinz Stockhausen's Klavierstucke.  Up until now, the only Stockhausen piano music I've heard was played by Maurizio Pollini.  It is something of a credit to Ms Benelli Mosell that she isn't crushed by the older great.  To be honest, I'm not sure how I could tell.  There's not much to enjoy here.  I'm not averse to late 20th century piano music – Messiaen and Ligeti both wrote fine music – a but this doesn't do much for me.  The sound is close and dry for the works, so each and every note is super clear.  As it turns out, the pianist worked with the composer in his later years, so perhaps she absorbed his idiom.  I'll have to leave that assessment to Stockhausen fans.

The next work is by a living composer.  What audacity!  Karol Beffa's Suite for Piano or Harpsichord from 2008 is built around gobs of arpeggios.  The first movement sounds like a blend of Debussy and Scriabin; the second like later Scriabin; and the third is a modern music boogie.  If this reads like the work is purely derivative, it is not.  There is some good stuff in there to catch the ear.  Sound is more standard in perspective.

But really, the reason I bought this disc was for the last work: Stravinsky's Three Movements from Petrouchka.  For a long while I've divided recordings into two categories: Maurizio Pollini and Not Maurizio Pollini.  His command of the piece is such that no one I've heard comes close, not even Ivo Pogorelich.  Ms Benelli Mosell is not Maurizio Pollini, but she comes close.  The sound is slightly more distant, quite bright, and comparatively bass light, but that ends up allowing one to marvel in her at times dazzling dexterity even more easily.  She matches Pollini for speed in almost every passage, even the dizzying run in the second movement.  She does him one better in her rubato, which is personal, maybe willful, and it is fresh and ear catching.  Perhaps over time it will grow irksome, but right now it is most effective.  Too, Benelli Mosell seems to find some passages so easy that she seems to make them harder, pushing them to push them, and to good effect.  There is athleticism, intensity, brightness bordering on brittleness, some passages that are pounded out with more than a bit of force (banging?  brutal?  just right?), and fireworks for the sake of fireworks.  I dig it.

So, Vanessa Benelli Mosell is more than a pretty face.  She's got chops aplenty, and she has ideas.  Based on this disc, I'd love to hear her play Ravel, Rachmaninoff, and I have a sneaking suspicion she could deliver Carl Maria von Weber of more than a little interest.  I'll be interested to see what she does next.

Looks like she's getting the international release treatment, as her disc hits US shores next month.
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Offline Mandryka

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Re: The Italian Invasion
« Reply #4 on: June 01, 2015, 09:58:35 PM »
The way she played the 9th klavierstuck made me think of Scriabin. Scriabin 10 maybe.
« Last Edit: June 01, 2015, 10:16:24 PM by Mandryka »
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Offline Todd

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Re: The Italian Invasion
« Reply #5 on: June 03, 2015, 06:29:40 PM »




Disc 4.  Beethoven's Bagatelles.  This is an all-Italian affair.  Italian pianist.  Italian division of a giant TNC.  Italian piano – a Fazioli.  Filippo Gamba manages to take a bit of the sharp edge off the higher registers of the instrument, while retaining the clarity and the hefty bass.  It's a neat display, and one that makes me think he might be able to deliver some fine Schubert.  Unfortunately, his playing also does something else: it turns Beethoven's Bagatelles into dull pieces.  The culprit is Gamba's penchant for slow and then slower tempi.  Every piece sounds slow.  Sure, there are some passages that are fast and well articulated, but overall everything drags on.  And on.  Some of the playing is very beautiful and lyrical, but it often seems out of place.  The last work on the disc, Fur Elise, sounds like a Pavane and clocks in at a bloated four minutes thirty.  The disc cannot hold a candle to Brendel or Sanchez.
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Offline Todd

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Re: The Italian Invasion
« Reply #6 on: June 06, 2015, 09:00:54 AM »




Disc 5.  Michail Lifits playing Mozart.  Okay, Lifits is not Italian – he's Uzbek – he just happens to record for Decca Italy.  After listening to an excerpt from this Mozart disc on YouTube, I had very high expectations for Mr Lifits, and getting to hear the entire disc I must say that my expectations were more than met.  The first thing one notices when listening is Mr Lifits' lovely tone.  No ugly notes are to be heard, and through perfectly judged pedaling and smooth legato he summons beauty after beauty.  Throughout the disc he mostly eschews dazzling virtuosic displays and instead opts for a dazzling tonal display.  Yes, he can play with remarkable clarity and precision when he needs to, but that's not what this disc is about.  Okay, he does play some passages a bit slower than normal, which when combined with his overall style, may sound too precious to some, but not me.  The disc includes sonatas K282 and K311, along with the K397 Fantasy, the K573 Variations, two Rondos (K485 and K511) and the Adagio K540.  Every piece sounds just splendid.  This is easily the best disc of the Italian bunch so far.  (I hasten to add that this does not diminish my enthusiasm for Ms Benelli Mosell.)  I have his Schubert twofer ready to go. 

Sound is superb.
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Offline ritter

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Re: The Italian Invasion
« Reply #7 on: June 06, 2015, 11:36:26 AM »



I commiserate with Mr. Gamba...being stung on the shoulder by a piano must be very painful!  :D

Now, on a serious note: thanks so much, Todd, for this traversal of the CDs of these young(ish) Italian pianists. Very much lookimng forward to your comments on CDs 6 and 7.  :).

The Bahrami, Benelli Mosell and Lifits issues have awakened my curioity, I  must admit!

Cheers,
Ritter
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"Muchacho, no te metas en dibujos, sino haz lo que ese señor te manda: sigue tu canto llano y no te metas en contrapuntos, que se suelen quebrar de sotiles".

Offline Todd

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Re: The Italian Invasion
« Reply #8 on: June 08, 2015, 09:16:21 AM »



Okay, I should have written about seven releases, not seven discs, because Maurizio Baglini's recording of all of Modest Mussorgsky's piano music is a twofer. So discs six and seven are devoted to Modest Mussorgsky. Maurizio Baglini is an Italian pianist who has pretty wide ranging repertoire, and he seems to be something of a Liszt specialist. That hints at a big, virtuosic technique. He plays a Fazioli. That hints at a big, bold sound.

Mr Baglini seems to have lived with Pictures for a long time. Each piece is played as its own distinctive work, while still managing to blend into the whole. The unique traits appear from the get-go. The opening Promenade displays a clear, bell-like sound and is most attractive, for instance. Each piece that follows sounds more colorful and more distinctive (like a nicely gnarly Gnomus) until Bydlo, which is played in stomping, grinding, crushing fashion, with blunted notes throughout. There is purposive ugliness in the music, but not the playing. The Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks becomes almost a tripartite mini-suite, and is delightfully played. Limoges, le marche is as good a pianistic depiction of a bustling marketplace as seems imaginable, with both hands' parts played with perfectly controlled, cheerful chaos. The Catacombae and Cum mortius in lingua mortua blend together seamlessly into one haunting sonic painting. Baba Yaga opens with flailing, crashing playing and later on scampers along, like a Russian Scarbo. Then Baglini does something completely unexpected and opens the Great Gate of Kiev in small scale, almost soft fashion, only slowly building up the volume and weight of the playing, finally playing the closing pages in nearly bombastic fashion, taking full advantage of the Fazioli's lower registers. This is one of the most varied, individual takes of Pictures at an Exhibition I've heard. He makes even Fazil Say and Ivo Pogorelich seem like straight-shooters, yet at the same time, though the playing is obviously self-indulgent from a pianistic display standpoint, his interpretation does not seem overly indulgent. It seems inevitable. Before listening to this recording, I sampled both Nino Gvetadze's recording and Fazil Say. Hers is refined and grand, his rougher and more personalized. Both are very fine. This is much better. It can be compared to the best versions I have heard.

Following the massive suite is the Reverie, and here and in the Impromptu passionne, Baglini plays softly and gently and beautifully throughout. The playing is touching. That makes the contrast with the pointed, vigorous Intermezzo in modo classico all the more jarring, in all its rumbling, heavy-duty style. The Polka that ends the disc is brisk, lively and fun.

The second disc opens with the C Major Piano Sonata for four hands, where Baglini is joined by Roberto Prosseda, he of the super-complete and super-good Mendelssohn Lieder Ohne Worte. The piece is sonically weighty but musically slight, and enjoyable. The remaining items basically move between somewhat boisterous and light concoctions, and slow, tonally lush pieces, at least as played here. Nino Gvetadze covers a fair number of the same pieces, but in every case, she plays them quicker, in a more straight-forward manner, and though her playing is refined, Baglini's playing displays a whole lot more in way of tonal lushness and variety. Baglini is more the virtuoso here, constantly offering up displays of what he can do. It turns out he can do quite a lot. I do enjoy Ms Gvetadze's playing, but Baglini's playing is more varied and more to my taste. Those wanting more direct playing may very well prefer Gvetadze.

Baglini's playing on this twofer is good enough to make me think I should try more of his work, probably starting with his Liszt. His overt but not garish virtuosity seems like a natural fit for the Hungarian's works. Baglini is a real find.

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Offline Todd

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Re: The Italian Invasion
« Reply #9 on: June 12, 2015, 05:49:59 PM »



(This will be cross-posted in Schubertiade! thread.)

Release seven, and discs eight and nine.  Michail Lifits playing Schubert.  The twofer opens with a  slow D894, which opens with a slow Molto moderato e cantabile that tops 20'.  Lifits again plays with unfailing beauty, and his measured tempo does nothing to prevent the music from singing.  His loud playing is definitely loud, but not at all hard, and the sound is full.  The whole thing is almost beautiful to a fault, and I ended up being surprised (sort of) when the coda arrived, so quickly did the movement seem to go by.  The Andante carries on in exactly the same way.  I suppose it would be possible for there to be a bit sharper edges on some of the playing, and that some may find it too soft, but at the same time, the unending beauty is its own reward.  The Menuetto has more lyrical but striking playing in the outer sections, and the middle section is one of the purest, most delicate beauty.  The Allegretto lightens things up a bit to end the work, like a sort of slightly beefier D664.  Listeners who want a heavy, or hard, or intense D894 will probably not find this version to be among their favorites, but while I can and do enjoy those types of interpretations, this is just wonderful.

The second disc contains D845.  Lifits again takes the piece on the slow side, which does not generally work as well here.  Lifits manages to make it work by ratcheting up the intensity and adding some real bite to his right hand sforzandi.  His hefty left hand playing also adds some scale.  The Andante likewise sounds lovely, but here Lifits plays the climaxes with some real intensity, and he plays some of the right hand passages in a sort of dreamy, stream of consciousness style that I really enjoy.  Only during the Scherzo's outer sections does Lifits' slow style show any signs of becoming too mannered.  That's certainly not a problem in the vibrant Rondo, which finds Lifits playing the most animated fashion of either of his two Decca releases.  No, this is not a fire-breathing version like Friedrich Gulda's, or a powerhouse reading like Radu Lupu's, or a marmoreal reading like Maurizio Pollini's, but I really, really dig it.  Really.

So, for those who like rich, beautiful, warm Schubert with basically no true rough edges, this is a set to snap up.  If that reads like faint praise, it is not meant to: This is top-flight stuff.

Sound is beautiful, full, rich, and close.  It is possible to hear Lifits breathing from time-to-time, yet there is no mechanism noise nor any other distractions to take away from the beautiful playing. 
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Offline Todd

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Re: The Italian Invasion
« Reply #10 on: July 09, 2015, 07:42:02 PM »




I figured I might as well try some more Italian Decca goodies.  Release eight, disc ten.  Maurizio Baglini plays Liszt's Transcendental Etudes.  Baglini is something of a Liszt specialist, and his liner notes are filled with a mini-history of the works on offer, and hints as to why some pieces ought to be played slower than is often the case.  Baglini does indeed play some of the pieces a bit slower than normal, but not excessively so.  To get ready for this disc, I listened to Yukio Yokoyama's slick, virtuoso – though not blazing fast – treatment of the pieces (complete with Wolf Erichson production, touted by Sony), and Baglini is quite different.  First of all, Baglini is all about details, almost to the point of distraction at times.  Everything is on crystal clear display, and at times it's mildly disconcerting to hear so much emphasis placed on every note and nuance of the left hand playing, for instance.  Second, some of the playing is too underscored, too, well, too italicized, as if Baglini wants to draw attention to a passage just a bit too much.  Third, his rubato is personal at times, his phrasing occasionally blocky and clunky.

Those observations and mild criticisms aside, this is a splendid disc overall.  The first four etudes require some adjustment, a thick and heavy Mazeppa especially, but when Baglini plays Feux Follets at a comfortable speed, he coaxes lovely, scintillating, delicate, and colorful playing from his Fazioli, especially in the upper registers.  He revels in quieter playing, not just here, but elsewhere, with Ricordanza also benefiting.  To be sure, he can and does play with virtuosic flair and power, and Eroica, Chasse Sauvage, and the F minor etudes demonstrate this, but Baglini is more interested in things other than outright virtuosity all the time.  This is Liszt playing filled with ideas, though some may like them less than I do.

The disc also includes the 1837 versions of Mazeppa and Feux Follets to offer the listener a chance to hear how the works transformed over the years.  The later versions are definitely better, and Baglini seems pushed to his limits in the early Mazeppa, though it's not hard to understand why.

The sound of Baglini's Fazioli, recorded in Fazioli Hall, is essentially SOTA.
« Last Edit: July 10, 2015, 07:57:41 AM by Todd »
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Offline Mandryka

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Re: The Italian Invasion
« Reply #11 on: July 09, 2015, 09:06:39 PM »
I haven't heard his Liszt, but Baglini has made a couple of passionately played recordings of the Chopin etudes which I rate very highly, especially the second.
« Last Edit: July 09, 2015, 09:09:17 PM by Mandryka »
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Offline Todd

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Re: The Italian Invasion
« Reply #12 on: July 11, 2015, 07:48:21 AM »




Release nine, disc eleven.  Francescas Dego and Leonardi paired in the first disc of a soon to be complete LvB Violin Sonata cycle.  The second disc is next in my Italian disc queue, and the third disc is slated to be recorded next month, so it should be out sometime next year.  The hot property here is Ms Dego.  Taylor Swift's contemporary is young, tall, pretty, thin, and the international market looking booklet (English language notes come first) contains mostly photos of her.  The two artists appear to be regular performance partners as they have two other discs out, a Franck/Ravel ditty, and a disc of music by contemporary composer Nicola Campogrande.  This implies that they should work well together.  To instruments, Ms Dego uses a 1697 Ruggeri, and Ms Leonardi uses a modern Steinway D.

To the playing.  One word came to mind repeatedly as I listened: Light.  This applies to all of the sonatas on the disc.  This approach works very well indeed in Op 12/3, and also in Op 23.  The works basically zip by, breezy and fun.  In the Kreutzer, one may long for more drama than is on offer here, though the players do infuse more heft than in the prior two works.  Of course, one may not want a lot more drama.  There's more than one way to play this chamber music.  The one mannerism that does pop up is the use of the pregnant pause.  It is used most in Op 47, not surprisingly. 

Both artists play very well.  And they are equals.  Though Ms Dego gets more face time in the booklet, Ms Leonardi is not relegated to the background in the music.  Both artists take turns being the center of attention, and at other times they play together as a team.  The recording seems to be pretty natural in perspective, as the violin isn't excessively spotlighted, and on more than one occasion, the piano simply overpowers the violin – just like I've heard in real life.  Dego's tone is warm and her playing controlled and accurate, but as recorded, she doesn't project a gigantic sound.  Ms Leonardi has very nimble fingers indeed, and if she doesn't really storm the heavens – and should she? – she mixes well with Ms Dego. 

This cycle will not match the greats (take your pick), but it is off to an excellent start.  Once it is done and packaged as a box set and marketed properly, if it is, it could serve as an excellent entry to these works for newcomers.
The universe is change; life is opinion.   Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Offline Brian

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Re: The Italian Invasion
« Reply #13 on: July 11, 2015, 08:30:44 AM »
I guess this fits in the Italian Invasion thread: MusicWeb just informed me of a record label I'd never heard of before, Limen Classical and Jazz. Their website is a total disaster of broken links, autoplaying videos, and confusing information, but I did find, among other things, an album of viola chamber music by Schumann, Brahms, etc. with accompanist Andrea Lucchesini.

Offline Todd

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Re: The Italian Invasion
« Reply #14 on: July 11, 2015, 08:36:15 AM »
Letizia Michielon is recording an LvB sonata cycle for Limen.  Her site is even worse than Limen's.
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Offline Todd

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Re: The Italian Invasion
« Reply #15 on: July 12, 2015, 04:56:43 PM »




Release ten, disc twelve.  The second disc of the Dego & Leonardi cycle.  Not surprisingly, it is much like the first disc.  The only notable differences are that 12/1 is a bit slower than expected, the slow movement of Op 24 is more nuanced than expected, and there seems to be a slightly greater emphasis, via recorded balance, on Dego, but that could be my ears playing tricks on me. 
The universe is change; life is opinion.   Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Offline Gordo

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Re: The Italian Invasion
« Reply #16 on: July 12, 2015, 05:52:49 PM »
There are many interesting names to explore there.

Your post recalled me when some years ago I listened to the complete edition of Clementi's "Gradus ad Parnassum", released by Arts Music (4 CDs).

It was recorded by ten Italian pianists: Andrea Bacchetti, Luca Rasca, Maurizio Baglini, Paolo Zannini, Gianluca Luisi, Marco Sollini, Roberto Prosseda & Francesco Cipolletta.



As far as I recall, the general level was very good and the sound quality outstanding. 
Isn't it funny? The truth just sounds different.
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Offline Brian

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Re: The Italian Invasion
« Reply #17 on: July 12, 2015, 07:39:11 PM »
There are many interesting names to explore there.

Your post recalled me when some years ago I listened to the complete edition of Clementi's "Gradus ad Parnassum", released by Arts Music (4 CDs).

It was recorded by ten Italian pianists: Andrea Bacchetti, Luca Rasca, Maurizio Baglini, Paolo Zannini, Gianluca Luisi, Marco Sollini, Roberto Prosseda & Francesco Cipolletta.



As far as I recall, the general level was very good and the sound quality outstanding.
Congrats, post #3000. :)

Offline Gordo

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Re: The Italian Invasion
« Reply #18 on: July 12, 2015, 08:17:11 PM »
Congrats, post #3000. :)

Thanks! I hadn't noticed it.  :)

Under my old nom de plume :D, I wrote around 4,500 posts... So, probably, Gordo's days are numbered.  ;D
Isn't it funny? The truth just sounds different.
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Offline Todd

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Re: The Italian Invasion
« Reply #19 on: July 23, 2015, 05:49:18 PM »



Release eleven, disc thirteen.  Maurizio Baglini playing some Scarlatti.  People who prefer HIP Scarlatti should steer clear, because this is as un-HIP as one can get.  Whenever Baglini hits a big Fazioli bass note, it is closer to an organ than a harpsichord.  Depending on what one wants the title of the disc to mean, one may be disappointed.  Rhythmic flair ain't what this is all about.  Sure, there is some, and some quick playing, and some slow playing displays surprisingly fine rhythmic flair, but much of the playing is about tone, figures, phrasing, tone, and just generally piano playing.  The tempi themselves may be dance tempi, but it sounds different than expected, and in many ways better.  Baglini brings something new, fresh to some well known sonatas – Kk 380 or 443, say – and, indeed, to all of them.  Perhaps he doesn't quite match up to Pletnev or Zacharias or Babayan among piano versions (though, maybe he does on occasion), but this is a very fine disc and one I will return to again. 

Superb sound.
The universe is change; life is opinion.   Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

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