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Robert R. Reilly
Catholic News Agency, July 2011

At the end of last year, I was happy to announce the release of Vol. 1 [8.572329] in the Naxos survey of the complete piano music of Giorgio Federico Ghedini (1892&–1965), beautifully played by Massimo Giuseppe Bianchi. Ghedini is one of the unsung geniuses of Italian 20th-century music. Naxos has now issued the second and final volume of the piano music. All the works on this CD are from Ghedini’s maturity and therefore even richer than the youthful, charming pieces in Vol. 1. Five of the eight works presented here are world-premiere recordings, including the substantial Sonata in A flat major. The music is instantly appealing and full of character. Buy this CD for its own sake, but also to encourage Naxos to go on to record Ghedini’s brilliant orchestral and chamber music.

Barry Brenesal
Fanfare, May 2011

Listeners who have heard Ghedini’s best-known composition, Concerto dell’Albatro, will have some sense of what to expect: an unpredictability of melodic and harmonic direction, a use of contrapuntal procedures as binding and rhythmic elements in place of development, and an intensity in which all elements of the music contribute to a raptly visionary expressiveness. These pieces both embrace and flesh out that impression.

There’s both long-breathed lyricism and puckish humor in the 1922 Piano Sonata, while Lisztian antipodes of fury and despondency in the 1927 Fantasia bring to mind what critics once called Ghedini’s demone sonore. Something similar can be said for the tour de force Divertimento contrappuntistico from 1940, a toccata that concentrates a disconcertingly large amount of music in its five-and-a-half-minute length. The dissonant but powerful Capriccio of 1943 returns to neobaroque forms, and seems to look ahead to Shostakovich’s preludes and fugues, especially in the closing fugato section. The Ricercare super “Sicut cervus desiderat ad fonts aquarum” (1944, rev. 1956) has the “Biblical austerity” Ghedini described in a letter to a pupil, and the use of a peaceful, affirmative Gregorian theme in a frigid, bitonal context says more about the war years just past than any numbers of set political speeches.

There are several very short pieces as well on this album. The 1913 Sonatina is a direct, charmingly simple work that looks to early Debussy for its slim lines and fresh feeling. Similarly Puerilia, composed almost a decade later, is an amusing group of four pieces dedicated to his young daughters, describing in music the actions of four animals: an ant, cat, cuckoo, and rooster. From the other end of his career comes a very brief, whimsical 1957 Allegretto, written for a collection of examination pieces—a sort of exorcised Divertimento contrappuntistico.

When the album states “world premiere recordings,” they aren’t kidding. So in this case, it’s a matter of settling for what’s here, because it’s otherwise unavailable, and because the music is that good.

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, April 2011

Naxos has been an active agent on behalf of Ghedini. The Historical wing of the label has reissued orchestral music conducted by the composer himself whilst this is the second of the two volumes devoted to his complete solo piano music. This disc runs from the early 1913 Sonatina to the works of his middle-late period.

The Sonatina is a youthful affair, and I suspect you would be hard pressed to nail its country of origin, or even an accurate date of composition. It was written when Ghedini was 21 and shows his lyrical gift but no other clues as to the emergent composer. The Puerilia, on the other hand, which are subtitled, ‘4 Piccoli Pezze sulle 5 Note’, are far more distinctive and interesting. These tightly constructed miniatures are suitably droll pieces for a child to play, not least in their use of adjacent notes or the contrast between bass and treble sonorities. Each of the four is named after an animal; the bass/treble stalk is a cat, and there are amusing cuckoo motifs too.

But even this too is something of an appetiser. The main course is the 1922 Piano Sonata, something of a major statement. It takes in ballad-like gallantry, which sounds a bit like up-dated Scarlatti, quite light and quite exuberant. The central movement is more harmonically probing but still has a full complement of narrative fluency, rich, ripe chording and plenty of expression. The finale is delightfully spry, harking back to the first movement’s Scarlatti-like horn fanfare figures. Massimo Bianchi really does keep the pedal down at the end—there’s quite some sustain.

Fantasia followed in 1927 and is a much more unsettled work, occasionally truculent even. Its agitato qualities are loquaciously presented. Divertimento Contrappuntistico is constructed out of rather fearsome-sounding contrapuntal blocks, to which one can discern a Prokofiev influence. The drama and flair of the writing is considerable. In 1943 Ghedini wrote his Capriccio which was dedicated to Dallapiccola and it emerges as a tensile piece, quite cool, full of powerful dynamics—especially soft ones; reflective and dynamic in equal measure. By the time of his Ricercare super Sicut Cervus Desiderat ad Fontes Aquarum we have reached a period in which Ghedini has turned his back on his earlier more aggressive style. Things are spare, purged of uneasy gestures, concentrating on the essence of things. It is consequently a moving and in many ways absorbing work, and is played with all necessary seriousness and simplicity by Bianchi.

Indeed Bianchi proves throughout, in a thankfully well recorded acoustic, that he has a full measure of the writing, early and middle-late, and the imagination and tact to convey it to the listener.

MusicWeb International, March 2011

This is the second of only two volumes of Ghedini’s complete piano music on Naxos. Volume 1, also featuring Massimo Bianchi, was released a year ago, and is available on Naxos 8.572329. Of the two, this volume has, on balance, the more substantial pieces, in particular the Piano Sonata in A flat, the Fantasia andthe Ricercare. Moreover, the Sonatina, Puerilia, Sonata, Fantasia and Allegretto are all world première recordings.

The programme opens with the cheerful, mellifluous, almost anachronistic Piano Sonatina in D, sounding not unlike a young Grieg. This is the earliest work on the disc, one of Ghedini’s earliest of any kind, and not at all typical of his more mature style. Puerilia: Four Little Pieces on Five Notes are tiny but amusing and intriguing studies Ghedini wrote for his young daughters, each of the finger-restricted pieces representing a different animal—an ant, a cat, a cuckoo and a cock, with the first two focusing on the animal’s movement, the latter two on its call.

The Piano Sonata in A flat is a generally optimistic work, though tinged throughout, and especially in the slow movement, with nostalgic poignancy. It is a thoughtful, inventive and thoroughly beautiful work—Ghedini’s piano masterpiece.

The Fantasia is another of Ghedini’s major works for piano, in spite of its relative brevity. It was to be his last piano work for two decades, by which time his music had entered a more radical phase. The Fantasia is a virtuosic, complex work, interweaving stormy and reflective passages of fugato and counterpoint. The exciting final minute or so sounds like a delicious fusion of Chopin and Liszt.

The Divertimento Contrappuntistico, dedicated to the pianist Carlo Vidusso,is another briefish work, yet contains a huge amount of notes, evolved from a simple musical idea (the ‘diverting’ element), and is a technically demanding piece for the performer. Reminiscent mostly of Prokofiev, it is an enjoyable whirlwind of energy from first to last. The Capriccio is a short, three-part work, apparently reducing dynamically to pppp in the largo central section—patently not observed by Bianchi. The harmonies are interesting—dissonant in an approachable way.

The Ricercare on ‘As the hart panteth after the water brooks’ (Psalm 42) dates from 1944 (not 1943, as the back cover states). There was a revision in 1956—the version played here—and there is an audible element of war-weariness in this beautiful, contemplative, ascetic music. The final work is a bagatelle, the very short Allegretto, written for an anthology intended as examination pieces.

Pianist Massimo Bianchi is more than equal to the challenges thrown up by Ghedini’s imagination. The last resonances of the final chords at the end of the first and second movements of the Piano Sonata sound very slightly cut short, but otherwise the recording is almost perfect throughout. For the brilliance of the Piano Sonata, Fantasia and Ricercare alone this CD represents a worthwhile purchase, giving a long-overdue insight into an underrated and enigmatic composer., February 2011

It is not only composers of the 18th and 19th centuries who are worthy of rediscovery—so are some from the 20th. Or perhaps in their case it is more a matter of discovering them for the first time. That would seem to be true of Giorgio Federico Ghedini (1892–1965). A lover of older music, Ghedini went beyond his contemporary countryman Respighi’s fascination (shown in the Ancient Airs and Dances, among other works) to transcribe pieces by Monteverdi, Frescobaldi and others, and to create works of his own based on older music but imbued with the rhythmic and harmonic conventions of his time—often handled in very personal ways. Ghedini also wrote music with significant emotional underpinnings, and often of considerable complexity. His most extended work for solo piano, the Sonata in A-flat (1922), is highly coloristic and rhythmically complex; it is a highlight of Massimo Giuseppe Bianchi’s fine performances on a new Naxos CD. And it stands in striking contrast to the Ricercare that Ghedini started writing during World War II, in 1943, and revised in 1956—this is a spare, even dry work whose very leanness seems expressive of despair. The remaining pieces here show a composer of very considerable range, with the Puerilia of 1922 (“four little pieces based on five notes”) at one end and the considerable virtuosity of the Fantasia (1927), Divertimento contrappuntistico (1940) and Capriccio (1943) at the other. The early Sonatina (1913) and late Allegretto (1957) are the CD’s opening and closing works, respectively, and make effective bookends for a pianistic odyssey that is very much worth taking, for all that neither the works nor the man who composed them will be familiar to more than a handful of listeners.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2011

The second of two discs containing the complete piano music of the 20th century Italian composer, Giorgio Federico Ghedini, a musician hardly known outside of his native land. Torn between a desire to be a concert pianist, conductor, composer and teacher, posterity will probably remember his name solely as the mentor of outstanding Milan Conservatory pupils. Piano music comes from much of his life, though the result is no more than a handful of scores. The present release contains eight pieces, the earliest, the D major Sonatina, dating from his twenty-first year. It is a happy score that uses as its starting point the traditions of Schubert. Puerilia, four little pieces on 5 notes, was to amuse his daughters as he paints musical pictures that include the cuckoo and cockerel. The three-movement Sonata in A flat major also comes from 1922, and opens in the style of a folk-song; its gentle lilting central movement leading to a joyful finale. In complete contrast, Fantasia from 1927 is a big virtuoso showpiece whose inspiration comes from Liszt and Busoni. Then nothing for piano until 1940, by which time the Divertimento contrappuntistico had moved into a different world, similarities with Prokofiev abounding. Another three years elapse and we reach Capriccio, a work thatgoes to the outer-fringes of atonality, its coldness reflecting the conflicts in the world around him. That period of world madness brought the need to write the religious score, Ricercare super ‘Sicut cervus desiderat ad fontes aquarum’ being imbued with contemplative mystery. The brief Allegretto of 1957 was simply intended as an example of an advanced examination piece. As I commented in the earlier disc, Massimo Giuseppe Bianchi is a most assured advocate who adds charm and technically brilliance as required. The recording is exceptionally clear, but does bring a different quality to the low and top end of the piano.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group