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David W Moore
American Record Guide, November 2011

Bae’s is well played and, to my ears, more interesting.

Yang gets my vote for overall musicality and clarity of voice-leading…The music is worth hearing.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Brian Reinhart
MusicWeb International, August 2011

Alfredo Piatti is sometimes called the ‘Paganini of the cello’ and this seems appropriate. Born in 1822, he made his solo debut at the age of ten, composed his first cello concerto a few years later, and by middle age was playing in a string quartet with the dazzling all-star cast of Joseph Joachim, H.W. Ernst, and Henryk Wieniawski. Arthur Sullivan wrote a cello concerto for him. A better name might be the ‘Liszt of the cello’, though, Piatti is more firmly a romantic than Paganini was. In any case, Liszt invited the young Piatti to play a recital with him, encouraged him to move to Paris, and then generously gave him an Amati cello.

The solo works here are written mostly for teaching, but always entertaining and pleasing to the ear anyway. It’s a sign of how creative and compelling many of these romantic-era performers were that their solo compositions never flag in their melodic invention, refreshing variety of mood, and ear for storytelling. I’m also thinking of violinists like Beriot and even the later violist Lillian Fuchs. Piatti’s Capriccio on a theme from the opera Niobe is a huge pleasure, and though I couldn’t exactly hum the theme back to you, the fireworks are plenty and dazzling, especially in a final minute full of repeated notes, double-stops and harmonics. Keith Anderson’s liner-notes comment, “It need hardly be added that the piece makes heavy technical demands on a performer”, surely one of the understatements of the year.

The twelve Caprices also make for a satisfying listen. The first is a short, fleet prelude in semiquavers, before a six-minute-long slow work of a modest, slightly melancholy beauty. Highlights include the jaunty No. 3 and No. 7, marked ‘maestoso’ but rather more familiar than that, a bit like a virtuoso arpeggiated transcription of some light opera character’s comic aria. The central allegro of No. 11 is a fiendishly difficult aria with simultaneous bowed accompaniment, but for all that difficulty it falls very nicely on the ear, especially with playing as gentle as this.

Soo Bae is a Korean-born Canadian cellist who here gets the kind of star treatment Naxos almost never affords anybody. Her name is in capital letters on the spine, and there’s a glamorous photo on the cover and another one in the booklet; sorry, gents, but that’s a wedding ring on her finger. The attention is earned, though: her technique is impeccable, her range of expression outstanding, and the tone of her 1696 Stradivarius is always a joy to the ear. There’s a second of sour intonation in No. 6, but it’s the only blemish of any kind in this hour of great cello writing and playing. The tireless producers Norbert Kraft and Bonnie Silver, Naxos specialists in solo recitals and chamber music, are up to their usual exemplary standards: warm, very present sound just distant enough to avoid what are euphemistically called ‘performance noises’. In other words, there’s nothing stopping cello enthusiasts from enjoying this very much.

Mike D. Brownell, July 2011

Among the first virtuosos of his instrument, cellist Alfredo Piatti is a name known well to students of the instrument and fans of its virtuosic repertoire. Like other traveling musicians of his day, Piatti was also active as a composer. In his case, this was largely out of necessity; few works existed at the time the sufficiently displayed his pyrotechnic abilities on the cello. Although Piatti penned two concertos, four sonatas and a number of smaller works, he is best remembered today for his set of 12 Caprices for solo cello. Anyone who has studied the cello at upper levels has probably discovered these Caprices. There is certainly a didactic element to them, and the technical demands called for test the mettle of even the most proficient player, but they are not without their musical charm and potential. In the right hands, the Caprices are a fulfilling demonstration of the cello’s abilities. Few performers have recorded the set. Bengtsson recorded the complete set, and Starker a select few. Just as technically proficient as these two legendary masters is young cellist Soo Bae, performing the Caprices on this 2011 Naxos album. Bae’s technical execution is right up there with Bengtsson when it comes to effortless shifts, precision intonation, crisp articulation, and impeccable double-stop work. She also scores high marks for her ability to transform these works, often thought of as nothing more than etudes, into fulfilling musical jewels. The Bonjour Stradivarius cello on which she plays for this recording produces an almost impossibly beautiful, clear tone in its upper registers, but Naxos’ sound does not sufficiently capture enough definition of the instrument’s middle and lower range.

David Hurwitz, June 2011

Nearly an hour of solo cello music can be a slog, even if it’s Bach, and for all his charm, Alfredo Piatti was no Bach. It’s a tribute, then, to Canadian cellist Soo Bae that she manages to sustain the interest (and attractiveness) of this program throughout its entire length—not that you have to take it in all at once. Piatti was one of the major cello virtuosos primarily resident in England in the latter half of the 19th century. He played (on and off) in the Joachim Quartet—so did a lot of others—and according to composer and RAM Principal Alexander Mackenzie he was a cellist of the old school, who used vibrato selectively in melodic passages.

The Capriccio really is a delicious concoction, and even in the double- and triple-stops of its opening, Soo Bae never succumbs to the “dying cow” syndrome that plagues so many cellists in chordal writing. Her handling of the Andante religioso opening of the Second Caprice is particularly smooth and stylish, and whether she knows (or cares) about Piatti’s own predilections, her vibrato is, for the most part, unobtrusively and appropriately displayed. There’s a lot of virtuoso fiddling here also in the quicker numbers, but as I said, you don’t have to listen to the entire program at a sitting. So: fine playing, a novel program, and excellent sonics (and for what it’s worth, the cello is a Strad).

David Denton
David's Review Corner, June 2011

Though cellists may recognise his name as part of their musical education, Alfredo Piatti is otherwise totally forgotten. Born in Italy in 1822 he became one of the leading virtuoso cellists of his day, touring extensively throughout Europe. He was to spend much of his life living in London where he built a concert career and became an influential teacher at the Royal Academy of Music. Such was his income that he bought a Stradivarius to add to the famous Rogeri he already owned. The Twelve Caprices stand in parallel to Paganini’s 24 Caprices for violin, and were no doubt intended to display Piatti’s remarkable technique. Even in today’s world of technical brilliance they pose a major challenge with pages of double-stopping and spread chords that are incredibly difficult in terms of intonation. I recall the violinist Ruggero Ricci saying ‘you ask all the other violinists who have recorded the Paganini how many edits there was, mine had none’, and I doubt that anyone could record the Piatti without such help, the Korean-born, Soo Bae, spreading her recording sessions over three days. She had in her hands the fabulous Stradivarius ‘Bonjour’ of 1696, the sheer clarity of the harmonics, both natural and ‘artificial’ speaking of the perfectly true tone of the instrument. The result is a staggering display of technical brilliance that I do beg of you to hear. The Caprices here take forty-four minutes, the disc coupled with the Capriccio sopra un tema della Niobe di Pacini, and uses the same aria from Pacini’s opera that was later used by Liszt. The recording was made by Naxos’s Canadian team in their favourite Newmarket church—Soo Bae now of Canadian nationality. They go in close and bring a large and bold tone.

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