Italian flavor with a difference

by Michael Johnson Michael Johnson is a music writer based in Bordeaux. He contributes music commentary to Facts & Arts, International New York Times, Boston Musical Intelligencer, Open Letters Monthly and Clavier Companion, among others. He is a former board member of the London International Piano Competition. 11.03.2014
The expatriate young pianist Mauro Bertoli, now artist in residence at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, brings his feathery Italian touch to a new CD, Italian Memories, featuring his personal collection of little-known Italian keyboard works.

His timeline stretches from the largely forgotten Benedetto Marcello (a contemporary of Vivaldi) to Clementi and Martucci and on to Ferrucio Busoni who died in 1924. The range of style is equally wide. 

Bertoli, a frequent recitalist in Europe, Asia and North and South America, explains in his program notes that he assembled his Italian pieces from his life at the piano – some from his youngest years, others unearthed more recently. The CD “pays homage to my country of origin” and is “very close to my heart as it focuses on Italian music”.

I have been listening to this charming collection off and on for a week, and always perk up at Pietro Domenico Paradisi’s Toccata in A, an excerpt from one of his 12 keyboard sonatas. Paradisi’s work has languished in the repertoire but this Toccata survives as a better-known miniature perfectly suited to Bertoli’s delicate attentions. Reminiscent of Mendelssohn’s later Spinning Song, it stands out in this disc for its pleasant musicality.

Bertoli renders Clementi’s Sonata Opus 26 cleanly and confidently before turning to Giuseppe Martucci’s Romanza and Melodia. Martucci, who died in 1909, was a prolific orchestral composer who is enjoying a small revival today. But the bulk of his work was for the piano. These gems are representative of his compositional mastery. Bertoli brings a dreamy, song-like quality to both these pastoral works. 

But of all the pieces in this unusual disc, it is Ferruccio Busoni’s Diario Indiano (in English, Indian Diary) that makes the greatest impression, if only for its origins. Busoni was a modernist before his time and encouraged the use of all sound in music. He worked briefly in the United States during the First World War and became familiar with tribal music from American Indians.

Busoni student Natalia Curtis, originally a concert pianist, devoted her best years to collecting the unwritten melodies of the Hopi, Cheyenne and other tribes as an exercise in American identity. She collaborated with Busoni to bring some of this legacy to a wider public. Besides the Diary, Busoni produced the orchestral work Indian Fantasies, based on other discoveries salvaged by Curtis.

Busoni took the Indian rhythms and melodies, applied his personal harmonics, and produced a somewhat lonely, eerie landscape evocative of Indian spirituality and the prairie on which the tribes lived at the turn of the 20th century. Bertoli combines with Busoni to make these pieces a fresh blend of Italy and Native America – unique and a welcome addition to the repertoire. 

Bertoli goes to some lengths in his program notes to thank the more than 75 contributors, his “musical investors”, who financed this personal journey through Italian music. The recordings were produced in Italy near his birthplace in Brescia.

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Related:

Young Italian pianist at ease with Scarlatti

Published 24.03.2013
The young Italian pianist Mauro Bertoli, now based in Ottawa, Canada, displays considerable hubris in leading off his recent solo CD with three well-known Scarlatti sonatas. If he felt he had something to say that Horowitz and Pogorelich hadn’t..

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