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Penguin Guide, January 2009

Rossini retired (absolutely) from composing operas at the age of 37 and spent his final years in writing numerous piano pieces (not always so short—several here are over ten minutes in length). He called them Péchés de vieillese (‘Sins of Old Age’) and arranged them in 14 volumes. Each of the pieces has a neat sobriquet; one of the most charming here is the Petite polka chinoise; others are Une pensée à Florence and the well-named Petite valse de boudoir. Many start with a bold, commanding introduction and then lapse into a simple melody. Une Cauchemar is like an impromptu, while Gymnastique d’écartement certainly requires delicate exertion from its performer, and Un réveil en sursant is crisp and pointed. There is even a fugue (Prélude fugassé). Although lightweight, Rossini displays a continuing fund of invention, and these pieces are well worth exploring. Alessandro Marangoni plays them persuasively, although he might at times display just a little lighter touch…

American Record Guide, September 2008

At the ripe old age of 37, one of the most popular opera composers of all time simply stopped writing operas. The last years of Rossini's life were spent in Paris, where he occupied himself composing 14 volumes of salon music called Peches de Vieillesse (Sins of Old Age). Here, in the first of what I expect to be another of Naxos's exemplary complete sets, we hear all of Volume 7, The Cottage Album, and the solo piano numbers from Volume 9, which was a quirky group of pieces for various instruments including violin, cello, harmonium, and French horn. Despite the evocative French titles that predate those we are familiar with in the music of Debussy and Satie, these are very Italian works. Written in Paris, where many other non- French romantics (Chopin and Liszt to name two) seemed to gather, Rossini's piano music sounds comfortable to an ear brought up on music of this era.

Unfortunately, Rossini did not have the ear for piano sound that Liszt and Chopin did. Next to their music, Rossini sounds foursquare and quite predictable, despite a host of pretty tunes and some clever ideas, never fuIly brought to fruition. Rossini's figurations initially seem appropriate, but they are rarely varied and developed as in great piano music. …Marangoni is not yet 30 years old, but seems to have a very good feel for Rossini. He has a beautiful legato touch and a keen sense of phrasing-both qualities absolutely essential for this music. I'll look forward to future installments.

Margarida Mota-Bull
MusicWeb International, July 2008

Rossini’s decision abruptly to end his operatic career at the age of only thirty-seven has been the subject of many debates and copious articles over the years. His operas – of which Guillaume Tell (1829) was the last - tend to overshadow his later works, in particular his wonderful Péchés de vieillesse (Sins of old age). This could be one of the reasons why they are neglected. These Péchés comprise pieces for solo piano, for vocal and instrumental ensembles, songs, and the beautiful Petite Messe Solennelle. They are organised in fourteen volumes, each with different names, containing various pieces. Rossini never intended them for publication though some were issued during his lifetime. Most did not come out until the 1950s, which is possibly another reason for their general neglect. However, I still find it difficult to understand why the songs do not appear more frequently in Mélodie and Lieder recitals. Rossini’s substantial quantity of piano music is hardly ever played by today’s greatest pianists. It is true that the composer’s style advanced little in most of the works that form the Péchés de vieillesse and therefore their musical language is generally conservative. However quite the contrary can be said of the character of many of the solo piano pieces; they are clever, amusing parodies of fashions of the time, of other musicians contemporary of Rossini, and of himself and his own work.

Naxos and the distinguished, award-winner pianist Alessandro Marangoni, deserve to be congratulated for the decision to record the complete Péchés. This CD set is the first of the intended series, entitled "Rossini’s Complete Piano Music". The present set occupies two CDs and each is a delight from beginning to end though I preferred the first.

CD 1 contains the majority of the compositions that form volume VII of the Péchés, entitled Album de Chaumière (The Cottage Album), an ironical title if one bears in mind that Rossini did not like the kind of romantic oil painting the name invokes. Marangoni plays each piece with enthusiasm, loving care and dedication. His performance is humorous and joyful as well as precise without being dry. He is also capable of sensuous beauty in the more delicate, lyrical passages. In Gymnastique d’écartement (Exercises for opening), he expresses well the caricature character of the piece but his style remains sober. It never slips into unnecessary exuberance, a "sin" that a lesser pianist might easily have committed. I particularly enjoyed Marangoni’s interpretation of the second piece, Prélude fugassé (Fugal prelude), a strange title to say the least, as a composition cannot simultaneously be a prelude and a fugue. This is a piece evocative of J.S. Bach and of the mark his work left on Rossini’s own writing. The composer pays here an endearing and funny tribute to the great master of the Baroque era. Marangoni’s rendition is suitably humorous and energetic, showcasing his classical brilliance while, in number 5, Prélude inoffensif (harmless prelude), a poetic little gem, he changes into an intentionally romantic, lyrical style, at times beautifully legato, as suits the piece. Undoubtedly this is a gentle tribute to Chopin both in the music and its title. From here, Marangoni easily moves to the charming little parody that is Petite valse "L’huile de Ricin" (Castor Oil Waltz), and swiftly follows it with the final piece of this first CD. Rossini wrote this piece in two sections: one a deep sleep, Un profond sommeil, a quiet, meditative episode, and the other a brusque or sudden awakening, Un réveil en sursaut, which is lively, fast and joyful. The transition from peaceful meditation to rousing energy requires a poetic touch and a resilient, secure technique. These attributes are wonderfully displayed by Marangoni who seems to glide effortlessly across the keyboard in what is arguably the most virtuosic and dramatic piece of them all.

CD 2 continues with the remaining compositions from the Album de Chaumière, which are less attractive than the previous eight though no less demanding in terms of execution. These five pieces are then followed by four precious but little known gems extracted from volume IX of the Péchés, the album for piano, violin, cello, harmonium and horn. The first, Mélodie candide, is one of my favourites. As the name indicates, it is an innocent melody, beautifully modulated, almost naive in character, which made me picture children playing and echoed happy childhood memories. It is attractively and lovingly performed by Marangoni who again demonstrates his versatility in terms of style and his impeccably expressive technique. He moves through the final three pieces with equal ease, delivering a memorable performance of what is to me the "tour de force" in CD 2, the final piece, Impromptu tarantallisé (Improvisation in the form of the Italian dance tarantella). Marangoni revels in the glorious whirling attributes of the music, inviting the listener to stand up and joyfully dance around the room.

The whole work is a joy to listen to, touching and moving at times, humorous, ironic and dramatic in other instances. It requires virtuosity, sensibility and an excellent understanding of the composer’s style. Marangoni demonstrates that he has all these qualities in abundance. He obviously delights both in the music and in the fabulous piano at his disposal – a Steinway from the collection of the famous Italian master technician, Angelo Fabbrini – and this delight comes across in his playing making it all the more attractive.

This CD set is undoubtedly an excellent recording of Rossini’s often neglected but wonderful piano music, finally being given the attention it deserves. I can hardly wait for the next volume in the series to be available.

Dominy Clements
MusicWeb International, June 2008

Gioachino Rossini’s remarkable life and career is well known: the opera composer who, with the world at his feet, appeared to retire at the age of 37. He had around 17 years of huge success with operas such as Il Barbiere di Siviglia, and after completing his last opera Guillaume Tell, he had another 39 years of ‘silence’. The second period of his life was in fact anything but silent, and Rossini would later turn up with pieces such as the Stabat Mater and the wonderful Petit messe solennelle.

More private were the creations which became collected as the Péchés de vieillesse or ‘Sins of Old Age’, which are contained in fourteen volumes. Some of these are for voice and piano, others, such as volume IX, include pieces with strings, harmonium and horn, the solo piano works from which appear at the end of this programme. Album de Chaumière or ‘The Cottage Album’ is the no doubt ironically twee title given to volume VII, the first of the albums for solo piano. This consists of 12 pieces ranging from titles such as Petite polka chinoise to works of a grander scale such as Une pensée à Florence. Rossini’s attitude with these works is frequently ironic and often deceptive. Confronted with a title such as Prélude inoffensif, one might expect something other than the extended lyrical aria which in fact appears. The generally light character of many of the pieces is interspersed with more searching, funereal atmospheres such as that in Un profound sommeil, and Un cauchemar – literally ‘A Nightmare’. In these pieces we are not so very far removed from the symbolic cries of the owl in Leoš Janáček’s ‘On a Overgrown Path.’ On the complete opposite there are parody-like pieces such as the bombastic Marche which closes Vol.VII.

Alessandro Marangoni is a young pianist and a rising star whose reputation will in no way be harmed with these recordings. Whatever one thinks of these ‘Sins of Old Age’ they are certainly a fascinatingly enigmatic and eclectic mixture of Rossini in all moods. Fans of the Petit messe solenelle must certainly investigate these pieces, as the thick piano chords and bouncy bass lines which crop up in that work are certainly not absent here. Fans of Rossini’s operas are also kept well fed with rich melodic invention, if performed instrumentally rather than vocally. This Naxos recording is very good, with a rich, deep piano sound, if captured in a rather dry and tubby acoustic. The impression is one of a front room soirée rather than a concert hall performance, which isn’t such a bad thing for these pieces. I do however feel that a slightly more sympathetic space might have helped Alessandro Marangoni when trying to give a more legato feel, or in varying the colour and mood. The pieces come across a little on the lumpy side sometimes, and the contrast between some of the works is less startling than might otherwise have been the case.

This new series will have to compete with the recordings by Stefan Irmer on MDG, and although there is no information on the instrument used in the Naxos recording – other than that it is a Steinway & Sons from the Angelo Fabbrini collection, it gives the impression of being an older instrument, a quality it would then share with the MDG recordings. The bass has a pleasant rounded quality, and the usual Steinway brightness only really shines through in the upper registers at higher volume. Any reservations I may have can be accounted for as a matter of personal taste, so nothing I say should stop anyone from dropping into their local retailer and bagging this remarkable release forthwith. This is going to turn into another of Naxos’s eminently collectable sets, and on this showing will prove to be worth it at almost any price.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, April 2008

His performances exude the feel of a musician who really believes in the music

No composer before or since has written so many popular operas that were spread over every style from comedy to historic dramas. His output began in 1810 at the age of 18 and from therein his stage works was performed throughout much of the world. Then to everyone’s disbelief he announced his retirement in 1829, when just thirty-seven. He returned from Paris to live in his native Italy, and nothing more of importance emerged in his last thirty-nine years. Why this happened has intrigued musicologists, though analysis shows that his output had long shown a split personality. In the event he busied himself in those last few years writing piano pieces and songs. They were not devoid of the humour that had made his operas so popular, and he showed a natural facility for writing for the piano. He gave all of the music from this period the amusing title of Peches de vielliesse (Sins of Old Age), the worksissued in fourteen extensive volumes of which the first three were for piano and voice. You will have to excuse my thoughts that if they had not been headed by the name Rossini, they would have been quickly forgotten. The present pair of discs contains the first volume for solo piano (the seventh in order of composition), given the title Album de Chaumiere (The Cottage Album). How much he knew of Chopin’s music is conjecture, but too much here sounds like poor-man’s Chopin punctuated by a lighthearted view of Mozart. Each movement has a descriptive title which sets the scene, Rossini often using an amusing name to mask the lightweight content of the music. In sum they provide uncomplicated enjoyment, often shallow but always pleasing. To fill the second disc the soloist, Alessandro Marangoni, takes four pieces for piano from the ninth volume which overall was written for piano, violin, cello, harmonium and horn. Marangoni was born in Italy in 1979 and has created a dual career as a major concerto soloist and chamber musician. His performances exude the feel of a musician who really believes in the music, the playing clean and well paced, the fun never exaggerated. Very good sound quality.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group