International Record Review - April 07

Wed 2 May 2007

Comparison Schimé-Lucchesini

Lucchesini’s performance confirms it as a work of marvellously rich colours, inexhaustibly bustling energies, breathtaking sonic constellations, and a quite extraordinary combination of solid bedrock and explosive fantasy.Here’s an embarrassment of riches: the second recording, within months, of Luciano Berio’s piano music, both of them discs of exceptional quality. The principal difference is that the previous release (with pianist Schlimé, 2006) includes a very early work that the new disc (from Andrea Lucchesini) excludes in favour of two short pieces for four hands, where he is joined by his pianist wife Valentina.

So one might almost say that each disc present Berio’s complete music for solo piano – this is actually the case with the first disc end virtually the case with the second. At a much finer level of discrimination, though, there is another difference. Scintillating at the Schlimé CD is, what Lucchesini offers here is pianism of an incomparably high order, technically, musically, interpretatively. Given with formidable command of colour and expressive range, Berio’s piano music has never sounded so vital, fluent and compelling.

Nor perhaps, so loved: Lucchesini was a close personal and professional friend of Berio’s during the last decade of the composer’s life, as well as his pianist of choice. One of the tree essays in the really excellent booklet is Lucchesini’s moving recollection of their friendship.

His involvement, as Berio’s confidante, in the creation of the Piano Sonatas was, he tell us, “like having for once the key to a secret room, access to which is unavailable to performers who normally play the music of the past”. Though Berio described it as “a huge, almost unplayable piano piece” it holds no terrors for Lucchesini. He gives it with fabulous poise and panache, producing gossamer textures, exquisitely articulated bursts and flashes, gentle webs of sound, and quite, and quite wonderful control of colour and texture.

His projection of the work’s multilayered dimensions – utterly essential to the disentangling of its complex skeins – is effortlessly, confidently, flawlessly done.
The work’s larger architecture is also laid bare, in all its strong but delicate beauty.

Though just the Sonata’s second recording, Lucchesini’s performance confirms it as a work of marvellously rich colours, inexhaustibly bustling energies, breathtaking sonic constellations, and a quite extraordinary combination of solid bedrock and explosive fantasy. The Sonata was completed in 2001; it’s arguably the first great masterpiece of the twenty-first century.
Sequenza IV is an imposing work; Lucchesini makes it sound gorgeous, perhaps because he remembers how Berio ‘insisted on a sort of virtuosity in the instrumental gesture, understood as the ability to change, continuously and brusquely, both the procedure of the keystrokes and the timbric quality of every phrase’. What we hear is a piece of vast harmonic riches, revealed in a drama that is elaborate, improvisatory, unpredictable. By contrast the Six Encores are exquisite little piece; Lucchesini reveals their depths, and delivers each with a sharp, compelling characterization.
Rounds comes across a quirky and capricious, the lovely Cinque Variazioni as a set of luminous ruminations on musical change.
Appropriately, the disc also includes two tiny miniatures (for four hands) devised by Berio and offered, like precious stones, on the occasion of Lucchesini’s marriage in 1991. To play Touch, the performers have to do jus that: its playing requires that hands, arms, legs intertwine. Wonderfully, the music itself suggests a gentle mingling of otherwise discreet registers, layers and modalities. Canzonetta is even shorter: haiku-like but with a jazzy undertone, it’s over in just 50 seconds.
What about blemishes? None that I can discover: even the recorded sound (clear and mellow) is a delight. Discs seldom get as good as this. Lovers of fine piano music in general, and of Berio’s music in particular, should not be without it.
Christopher Ballantine