Feature article by Colin Clarke
BERIO Petite Suite. 5 Variazione. Sequenza IV. Rounds. Brin. Leaf. Wasserklavier. Erdenklavier. Luftklavier. Feuerklavier • Andrea Bacchetti (pn) • DECCA 476 194-4 (43:33)
Andrea Bacchetti's written introduction spells out his close association with the composer of these pieces. There is much to admire here, certainly, but Bacchetti does not quite come out on top of the pile.
The Petite Suite was written in 1947, when Berio was still at the Milan Conservatory. The influences here are primarily those of Ravel and Prokofiev, as Carmelo di Gennaro so rightly points out in his booklet notes. As a sequence of miniatures (Prelude; Petite Air I; Gavotte; Musette; Petite Air II; Gigue), they are a constant source of delight, especially in such a light-fingered performance as Bacchetti's. The "Petite Air I" certainly breathes the rarified, fragile air of Impressionism through and through. Bacchetti seems completely at home here.
Dating from six years later, the Cinque Variazioni are serially composed. Yet Berio's essentially lyrical nature shines through. The piece begins in a whisper yet soon moves toward Webernian disjunctions that go hand-in-hand with a Boulezian complexity. What becomes increasingly obvious as one listens is that Bacchetti is as equally at home in the liquid, beautiful, calmo sections as he is in the harder-hitting, more aggressive louder passages. It is precisely this combination that makes him so amenable to Berio's music.
And so from 1953 to 1965, and the fourth Sequenza. Bacchetti explores the piano's coloristic bandwidth to hypnotic effect here. The virtuoso passages (of which there are many) stand on equal footing with the more reflective meditations. The use of the third pedal is very much part and parcel of this piece. A passage some three minutes before the end testifies to Bacchetti's sonic realization. The short Rounds of 1967 (originally for harpsichord) is an exciting short work that uses similar techniques as the Sequenza in employing what the booklet refers to as a "polyphony of actions" (a layering of compositional techniques).
The Six Encores contains some of Berio's most famous pieces, the pianos of the four elements: "Wasserklavier," "Erdenklavier," "Luftklavier," and "Feuerklavier." These are preceded by "Brin" and "Leaf," giving the compositional date range of 1965 to 1990. The quiet space of "Brin" (marked pppp throughout) is heard first; "Leaf" then hearkens back to Sequenza IV in a somewhat simplified (and very beautiful) form. It is documented that "Wasserklavier" is a commentary on an evening in which Berio discussed Schubert's F-Minor Fantasy and the Brahms Intermezzo in B Minor, hence the prevalence of the key of F Minor. "Erdenklavier" is far more robust, its stabbed-out notes having a pealing, bell-like element to them. Bacchetti's articulation is superb in "Luftklavier" (perhaps the highlight of the disc), a textural miracle; "Feuerklavier" flickers beautifully in a sort of post-Debussian way.
The playing time is on the low side (not even 45 minutes) yet the whole listening experience nevertheless seems intensely satisfying. Just, why was the sonata not included? There is also a small typographical error in the booklet between pages 15 and 16 (the top of the page repeats some material from the previous page). The recording is not ideal, either. It seems lacking in body as the piano is placed somewhat distantly (Bacchetti plays on a Yamaha instrument). Alas, the disc comes into direct competition for several of the pieces with the Avie disc of Berio piano works recorded by Andrea Lucchesini (Avie 2104, positively reviewed by Robert Carl in Fanfare 30:6). The programs are not identical, though (Lucchesini includes the sonata and some works with another pianist). Colin Clarke
This article originally appeared in Issue 34:1 (Sept/Oct 2010) of Fanfare Magazine
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