, March 2007
Cesare Ciardi was a flute and piccolo virtuoso, born in Prato in Tuscany in 1818. He seems to have been something of a child prodigy, improvising melodies on home-made reed pipes before he was seven. In 1827 he made his first public appearance, in Genoa, where he played for the royal family and Paganini was in the audience. This was the beginning of a dazzling concert career. He developed into an astounding virtuoso.
He did successful concert tours to London and in 1853 moved to St. Petersburg to become chamber flautist to the Tsar. He taught at the St. Petersburg Conservatory where Tchaikovsky was amongst his pupils. Ciardi remained in Russia until his death in 1877.
From the late 1830s he started a parallel career composing, mainly for his own instrument, though he did write an opera. In 1859 he wrote his Gran Concerto in D, Op. 129. Originally written for flute and piano he re-cast it for flute and orchestra; but the orchestral version was never published and a manuscript has not come to light. Here it is presented in an orchestration by the flautist Roberto Fabbriciani. The CD booklet also states that Fabbriciani revised the piece, but no details are given.
Fabbriciani’s orchestrations are attractive and convincingly period, but of course the spotlight is on the flute. The solo instrument is to the fore for most of the time and, as with Chopin’s concerti, the orchestra features mainly in the ritornelli.
Fabbriciani includes two other occasional pieces for flute and piano in his own orchestrations. L’Eco dell’Arno is a fantasia on Tuscan folk-songs. Ciardi liked the fantasia form as it allowed him to choose thematic material at will and to improvise variations in a variety of styles and keys. Il Carnevale in Venezia is a similar set of variations on the well-known canzonetta, Cara mamma mia.
In both works, Ciardi demonstrated his astounding virtuosity as a flautist. Whilst in the concerto, he seems to have been slightly constrained by the formal requirements of the concerto form, in the fantasias he was free to astound his listeners.
Flautist Fabbriciani proves a more than adequate stand-in for Ciardi himself. He is an astounding technician, well equal to anything that Ciardi throws at him. But more than that, he plays musically, with a lovely smooth, warm tone. He is more than adequately supported by the orchestra.
As a filler, Fabbriciani includes five of Ciardi’s shorter pieces for flute and piano, with Massimiliano Damerini as his fine accompanist. The acoustic is perhaps slightly too generous for the flute-piano pairing. The pieces themselves are slight but designed to show off the flautist’s brilliant technique.
No-one would claim great musical significance for Ciardi’s music, but it is undeniably attractive. And when it is played in performances as stunningly virtuosic as this, then all one can do is sit back and enjoy and admire.