Puccini piano works from Sandro Ivo Bartoli

Puccini: Complete Piano Works & Selected Opera Transcriptions

Sandro Ivo Bartoli (piano).

Piano is not likely to be most music lovers response to the word ‘Puccini’. Many readers will be aware that Puccini composed at the piano and some will recall the piano on stage, in La Rondine, upon which Prunier accompanies Magda. Here we have a CD of piano works by the great opera composer. Well not quite. Actually the CD contains six works written by Puccini for solo piano¹ and the remainder is filled with a selection of opera transcriptions.

This latest release by Sandro Ivo Bartoli is a most welcome addition to the catalogue. My only prior experience of these works was by way of a disc by Marco Sollini on the Bongiovanni label which includes Puccini’s six pieces for piano and combines them with works by Mascagni & Giordano. This present release is an all Puccini affair; combining the solo piano works with opera transcriptions.

The six works for piano are all short, but beautifully crafted, pieces. They range in length from the poignant Pezzo per pianoforte, a mere sixteen bars in length, written in memory of World War 1 victims, to the Piccolo valzer that in Bartoli’s hands lasts for just over four minutes. The collection begins with the earliest work, the Adagio in A major; a simple piece but one which contains moments of great beauty given the sensitive treatment that it gets here. The second track is the truly beautiful Piccolo valzer that Sandro Ivo Bartoli paces perfectly. (The performance of this piece alone is worth the cost of the CD in my view!) There follows a suitably lively account of Scossa Electrica (Electric Shock) – a piece written to mark the 100th anniversary of Volta’s battery. We continue with Foglio D’album and Piccolo Tango which are well written piano pieces which further enhance my wish that Puccini had devoted more time to piano compositions. The first half of the programme ends with the aforementioned, moving Pezzo per pianoforte.

So how does Bartoli compare to Sollini in these six works? Bartoli chooses slower tempi in these works and gives the impression of having immersed himself in this music² to a greater extent than had Sollini. In this new release so much more emotion is apparent, chiefly down to Sandro Ivo Bartoli’s playing but also enhanced by the outstanding quality of the recording which conveys every nuance to perfection. Thus I have no hesitation in recommending the Solaire release in preference to that from Bongiovanni.

The latter portion of the CD is taken up with pieces transcribed from Puccini’s operas. I was totally unfamiliar with these transcriptions prior to this, but was pleasantly surprised. The tunes here will be instantly familiar to fans of Puccini and, whilst they lose something as a result of a lack of orchestral colour, in these fine transcriptions by Carlo Carignani (a childhood friend of Puccini) they serve to show just how superb Puccini’s music is in any guise.

To sum up, this CD contains some unjustly neglected pieces that deserve to be more widely heard and this is just the performance to help them gain wider acknowledgement. Sandro Ivo Bartoli and Solaire records are to be heartily congratulated for commiting these works to disk. Reviewing this album has been an unexpected pleasure and I can see this being a strong contender for our Collectors’ Choice award next month. ***** for musicianship and recording quality.

iClassical rating: 

¹ Two are of dubious authorship and one may not have been intended as a piano piece.

² Sandro Ivo Bartoli had performed these works in concert before the opportunity arose to record this disk.

CD and downloads are available from Solaire Records.