Releases twenty and twenty-one, discs twenty-two through twenty five. The 48 by Pietro de Maria, he of the individual and at times arresting complete Chopin set – never more so than in the best First Sonata I've heard. Bach ain't Chopin, though. So, what's it like?
Beauty. That's the first word that popped into my mind as I listened to possibly the most beautiful rendition of the C Major Prelude I've heard. At no point from that piece forward is the playing anything other than beautiful. That's not to say beauty is all there is. De Maria offers much in the way of subtle dynamic gradations, coloristic effects, and excellent clarity in the fugues, expertly delivered harmonies, and tasteful ornamentation, almost all of which is sourced from period scores. (De Maria offers details on some of his choices and sources.) Perhaps one can detect a slight tendency to let the right hand playing be the focus of the proceedings – at least until it isn't. One can listen to any musical line with ease. I will say that it is not uncommon for me to find the Preludes more engaging than the Fugues in some recordings, but that pretty much never happens here. The fugues, all delivered beautifully, are uncommonly attractive.
As to highlights, well, besides the gorgeous opener, the C sharp minor fugue emerges as a potent, tense piece unfurled with great care. The E flat minor Prelude is played with not a little solemnity and boasts ravishing arpeggios, and is promptly followed by a solemn and largely serene Fugue. The G minor Prelude boasts with delicate and exact trills at the open, and meticulous trills throughout. The B flat major Prelude sounds playful as De Maria scampers around the keyboard. One needn't wait long for another highlight as both the B flat minor Prelude and Fugue sound exquisitely beautiful. From Book II, the C sharp major Fugue has a buoyant, energetic feel to it, as does the E minor Fugue, which adds beefy but not bloated bass to the mix. One need only wait until the beautiful, poetic C sharp minor Prelude for another highlight. The D sharp minor Fugue displays rhythmic verve and superb clarity of voices. The G sharp minor Fugue (the Fugues are almost disproportionately good in the second book) is lovely and serene. There are no lowlights.
This is an extremely fine set of the 48. It provided me immense joy and offers a compelling take on all the pieces. As is inevitable, I cannot help but compare it to other recordings, and if it doesn't match Andras Schiff's ECM recording, which is my personal reference and the one I can't live without, it is one that I will return to again and again and one that qualitatively matches some other Big Names.
Superb, warm sound throughout.
I do hope De Maria records some Debussy and Schubert. Oh boy, those could be good.