PETRASSI: Partita for Piano. Toccata. Piccola Invenzione. Invenzioni for Piano. Petite Piece. Oh les beaux jours! DALLAPICCOLA: Sonatina canonica. 3 Episodi. Quaderno musicale di Annalibera / Andrea Molteni, pno / Piano Classics PCL10222
I’m certain that someone will interpret this as an insult, but unfortunately, as a famous bard once said, facts are stubborn things: Andrea Petrassi looks like the high school nerd that everyone else made fun of. I know because I went to high school and there were boys who looked like Molteni in my class and they were picked on. So there.
But he plays with vigor, energy and not a little bit of sensitivity in these works by two of Italy’s mid-20th-century modernists, Goffredo Petrassi and Luigi Dallapiccola. If the first piece on this CD, Petrassi’s Partita for Piano, sounds more old-fashioned than you might expect, you have to remember that he was only 21 at the time and was modeling this work after Bach. Considering those two things, it’s a fairly impressive suite that he wrote at that time. Molteni sparkles as he rips through the music with energy and élan. The 1933 Toccata is also based on an 18th-century model, but by this time Petrassi’s harmonic language had evolved considerably.
Although Molteni is one of those modern pianists who like to dazzle the listener with their technical flash, he does not ignore good keyboard articulation. This keeps him from sounding as if he is smearing the figures; every note is cleanly and clearly struck, and in modern music of this sort it helps to create good forward momentum and legato flow. He certainly handles Petrassi’s quirky rhythms and bitonal harmonies with ease while still creating excitement with his lively approach.
And make no mistake, some of this music by Petrassi is difficult indeed, particularly (but not exclusively) the little two-piece set titled Oh les beaux jours! with its quixotic melodic lines. The second of these pieces, titled “Petite chat,” must have been attributed to a particularly hyperactive and schizophrenic cat whose movements seem to run in three directions at once, sometimes stopping on a dime and changing direction like a kitty on cocaine.
Dallapiccola was also a modernist who could be as bizarre as these later Petrassi pieces. In the first of these, the “Allegro comodo” of the Sonatina canonica, he is quite lyrical, but immediately afterwards he begins breaking up both line and rhythm with unusual formations. In addition, we have the knotty harmony and rhythm of the first of his 3 Episodi (“Angoscioso”) which sounds far in advance of its time.
Indeed, as one gets deeper into Dallapiccola’s music, the more abstract it becomes, particularly in the Quaderno musicale di Annalibera around Nos. VI-VIII. Here the composer was venturing into a musical realm that would only find acceptance several years later, which is one reason why he was considered such a “difficult” composer—not only for the musicians who played him, but also for the audiences that listened to him.
A strange but wonderful album of music that, although far from centrist, will keep you coming back to listen.
—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley
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