, July 2008
The name of Antonio Pasculli is not one heard a great deal these days – except amongst oboists and lovers of that particular instrument; or, I suppose, in the course of heated conversations amongst those (if they exist) with a special interest in the operatic paraphrase of the nineteenth century.
Born in Palermo, Pasculli became one of the great virtuosos of the oboe. From fourteen onwards he was touring Europe as a performer. At the age of eighteen he was made Professor of oboe at the Conservatory in Palermo – continuing to teach there until 1913. His career as a performer ended in the mid 1880s when he had serious problems with his eyes. Like many an instrumental virtuoso of the time, Pasculli wrote a good deal of music for his own performance, and it seems safe to assume that all the works here were composed for this reason, and therefore written before Pasculli’s retirement from the stage. Music thus written seeks, of course, to entertain an audience – but part of that entertainment will always be bound up with the soloist’s display of his/her technique. Substantial musical interest exists in a precarious balance with the demonstration of the performer’s instrumental command. It has to be said that in some of these pieces display is very much to the forefront – and any potential purchasers will need to make up their own minds as to how much that appeals (or doesn’t).
Certainly Paisov’s command of his instrument is very impressive. His breath control is remarkable in some of the many fast runs in the music – Pasculli seems, at times, to leave the soloist no place to breathe at all! But Piasov also produces some attractive lyricism in some of the more tender episodes.
Where I knew the opera ‘paraphrased’ by Pasculli (such as I vespri siciliani) there was a particular satisfaction to be had in observing the relationship between original and reworking; where I didn’t know the original (as with Donizetti’s Poliuto) even Keith Anderson’s helpful booklet notes on the opera couldn’t altogether prevent my finding Pasculli’s work rather empty. At times the spinning of notes seems to be a kind of self-justifying phenomenon, and one is happy to escape from a certain aridity which such passages embody. In general it is when Pasculli’s work is at its most gently melodic that it is most satisfying. Then, provided one has no exaggerated expectations of the music – this is not music of any great weight, emotionally or intellectually – one can sit back and enjoy. But even so, it isn’t, I suspect an experience I shall want to indulge in too often.
Natalia Shcherbakova is a sympathetic accompanist, though the recorded sound doesn’t always do full justice to her instrument.
For non-specialists this is a CD which will be useful for reference and which will deserve to be dipped into from time to time – but I shall be very surprised if it triggers any widespread growth of interest in Pasculli’s music.