Cameristico nel senso più intimo del termine, il tutto Mendelssohn ordito in casa Prosseda – Ammara è un gioiello di intesa, investigazione, trepidante slancio che cova sotto le braci di un’eleganza mai scontata.
Per l’occasione, il più mendelssohniano dei nostri interpreti – fine conoscitore dei più riposti frammenti
disseminati dal poliedrico genio di Lipsia nel corso della sua breve esistenza – chiama a sé il talento sempre sorprendente della moglie, come in una perfetta scena da Hausmusik.
The music on this disc is a considerable find. Extravagant claims for the work of little-known composers may often be regarded with suspicion, if not downright hilarity. There is none here; those that are made are entirely justified. For example; ‘eclecticism and originality’, ‘music of quality and expressive power’; ‘one of the most important representatives of Italian instrumental music at the end of the 19th century’.
I would not argue with any of that. The keyword is originality; even though the influences of Schumann, Wagner, Brahms and Liszt may be heard - a musical heritage passed down through teachers like Martucci and Sgambati - the voice is individual. One might describe it as a fusion of Brahmsian and Wagnerian lines with fin-de-siècle tendencies.
A few words of background are in order. Scion of a Tuscan noble family and a godson of Liszt, Roffredo Caetani studied in Italy with Giuseppe Martucci and in Vienna and Berlin where he met Brahms. Most of his slender output was complete by 1907, though there are two operas - Hypathia and L'Isola del Solefrom 1924 and 1943 respectively – and a very small number of other works from later. Caetani continued to give public concerts until the death in action of his son Camillo in 1940 in whose memory he founded La Fondazione Camillo Caetani in 1956. In 1972, his daughter Lelia founded La Fondazione Roffredo Caetani. Although Caetani, who was 17th Duke of Sermoneta and 8th Prince of Teano, was the last male survivor of his line, the name lives on with the conductor Oleg, son of Igor Markevitch and Roffredo’s niece Topiaza.
Both Foundations were involved in the production of this CD which appears to be only the second devoted to Caetani’s piano music, the first having been recorded by Roberto Prosseda, the husband of Alessandra Ammara and insightful writer of the notes on this CD. He draws attention to ‘a preference for gloomy atmospheres and veiled sonorities’, and that is evident from the very first few bars of theBallata whose elaborate chromaticism produces a melancholy air. Even a rather stiffly gestural passage near the end fails to mar the overall effect.
The Four Impromptus are perhaps the most successful items on the disc; the dark effect of the chromatic language is alleviated by the lighter weight of the impromptu form. Here, as in the Toccata, which also has a touch of Beethoven about it, the influence of Schumann is most felt though Caetani’s singular voice is not eclipsed.
The Sonata may derive from the classical form but the latter two movements at least come across as extended rhapsodies with the character of ballades. Their expressive diversity is well articulated by Ammara’s variety of touch.
As to the playing, the pianism of Alessandra Ammara has been greatly admired in these webpages, for example: Ravel and Schumann.
I fully agree with the sentiments expressed in those reviews. Her work is subtle and delicate, her rubato relaxed and natural. Even though much of the music on this record is essentially low-key, she is able to maintain the interest with intelligent characterization and total commitment.
This CD serves as an introduction to some very worthwhile music and an excellent addition to a fine pianist’s discography.
CD Review: Caetani piano music
Roffredo Caetani scrisse pagine cameristiche che seguono una propria via esclusiva, intimistica e, insieme, emotivamente forte. Dimenticato già prima della sua morte, ritorna in piena luce con squisite composizioni pianistiche in un CD della Brilliant Classics, nell'esecuzione perfettamente in stile di Alessandra Ammara e con un booklet, denso di notizie, scritto da Roberto Prosseda, che condivide in primis il merito della riscoperta.
Che Alessandra Ammara suonasse molto bene, e in specie proprio questi due grandi lavori di Chopin e di Ravel, lo sapevamo da alcuni suoi CD, ma il recentissimo video di cui ci occupiamo ce la presenta in forma ancor più smagliante, entro le mura di una splendida sala del Palazzo Chigi di Ariccia, edificio barocco che conosciamo anche dalle riprese effettuate al suo interno da Luchino Visconti per il suo film «Il Gattopardo». La ripresa video è molto accurata e sorretta da una esperta regia musicale, che sa di volta in volta cosa far vedere: quando le mani, quando l’interno del pianoforte (il martello sotto la corda del Si bemolle di Le gibet, ad esempio), quando il fregio o l’affresco sulla parete, quando il panorama di Ariccia. Sono evitate per fortuna le camminate attorno al pianoforte, croce e delizia dei registi dilettanti, e i primissimi piani sulle narici dell’interprete, che comunque appare ogni tanto ripresa nel viso ma in modo discreto. C’è invece tutto uno studio sulle mani della pianista, che sono già da sole di una rara eloquenza, e che andrebbero studiate – posizioni e diteggiature – dai giovani pianisti che si accingono ad apprendere questi pezzi, specialmente il Gaspard de la nuit. Non posso sapere se i ventiquattro Preludi di Chopin sono stati eseguiti di seguito durante la registrazione, ma la naturalezza con cui l’interprete passa dall’uno all’altro (naturalezza di movimento delle mani e naturalezza di cambio psicologico) lo rivelerebbe. Se non è stato così, vadano i complimenti alla pianista e ai tecnici del montaggio.
È molto importante nel grande ciclo chopiniano far cogliere all’ascoltatore la completezza del ciclo, appunto, anziché la frammentarietà dovuta al fatto che si tratta di brani diversi l’uno dall’altro. Ovviamente in pubblico, o in una registrazione video, è più facile raggiungere lo scopo; più difficile in un CD, specialmente quando vengono aggiunti alcuni secondi di silenzio «bianco» fra un pezzo e l’altro. E dopo aver lodato la ripresa video, dobbiamo riconoscere che anche quella audio non è da meno. La Ammara suona con una varietà timbrica che ricorda quella dei grandi chopiniani del passato, Cortot, Friedman, Horowitz. Il suo suono è estremamente cangiante specie nell’ambito del piano e pianissimo, senza diventare evanescente e perdere corpo, il fraseggio curatissimo e «parlante», il rubato sempre nobile e discreto, l’arte del pedale esemplare. La fedeltà al testo, chiaramente quello delle più aggiornate edizioni Urtext, è assoluta, specialmente nel caso di alcuni particolari effetti di pedali voluti da Chopin e quasi sempre disattesi dagli interpreti. La poesia timbrica e il dominio della sonorità riscontrati in Chopin si ritrovano nel Clair de lune debussiano e soprattutto nel capolavoro raveliano, dove il gotico dei tre quadretti di Aloysius Bertrand è risolto dal compositore francese con un virtuosismo pianistico sublimato dalle più estreme raffinatezze e le più clangorose accensioni dinamiche in senso descrittivo, talora addirittura onomatopeico. Il senso del colore e del mistero è sapientemente colto dalla pianista, in Ondine, e il senso del macabro in Le gibet, prima dello sfoggio di follia scatenato da quel demoniaco malandrino di Scarbo. Prestazione, questa della Ammara, di grande efficienza tecnica e inaudita poesia. Un video da raccomandare.
une excellente pianiste, avec un magnifique sens de la respiration, un vrai toucher et des transitions justes (Ondine est un petit bijou...)
Mo matter how many performances you already might have of these works, the special treasures you will find here are of unique value. The notes are perceptive, and the sound beyond reproach. Dare I ask for more Schumann?
Performance: ***** Sonics (S/MC): *****/*****
Robert Schumann would probably have laughed at the idea of anyone, let alone a concert pianist, playing the whole of his 'Album für die Jugend' at one sitting. These 43 miniatures were composed mainly to teach his three daughters not mere technique but the elements of musical expression at the piano. He declared that "these pieces came straight from my heart and were created from the deepest depths of my family life". In 1848 he transferred this musical gift from his domestic surroundings to the World, by publishing the group as a 'Christmas Album', Op. 68.
Obviously works of love in themselves, the miniatures reflect many of Schumann's concerns, interests and indeed his poetic soul. There are many folk-song influences and commentaries on rustic affairs, comments on the seasons, particularly Spring and Winter, as well as exercises in musical styles, such as chorale and fugue; references to literary subjects such as Mignon and Scherazade and homages to fellow composers ('Remembrance' in honour of Mendelssohn and a 'Nordic Song' whose theme is based on the notes GADE for the Danish composer Niels Gade. There are also life-lessons, in the pathos of 'First Loss' and the warmly passionate 'First Love'. Listeners might also spot a number of quotations, e.g. from Beethoven (Scherzo from Sonata op. 24 in the 'Soldier's March' and the trio from Fidelio in No. 21).
Alessandra Ammara has already demonstrated her talents as an excellent exponent of Schumann (Schumann: Carnaval, Davidsbündlertänze - Alessandra Ammara) and without a doubt her performance of the 'Album for the Young' is to be numbered with the best available. She floats Schumann's simpler melodies with sweet innocence and no trace of archness or sentimentality, phrasing poetically and meticulously following Schumann's many tempo and dynamic instructions. She also follows all repeats and uses the composer's indications for pedalling, which he often used for particular effects. As well as limpid poetry, she also shows great strength and rhythmic control in the more energetic and strenuous pieces. Put simply, I would have cheerfully bought this disk for the exquisitely dreamy sweetness of 'Mignon' and the sinister darkness of the two 'Winter' pieces, amongst many other felicities in this set.
The Arts engineers have captured excellent and immediate sound from their Steinway D, imbued with the piano-friendly acoustic of the Sala Maffieana in Verona, for a truly "in the room" experience with multichannel mode. Stereo too has sonorous presence, if slightly less hall-sound.
Despite Schumann's original aims for the Album, I'm personally glad that an artist of the calibre of Alessandra Ammara plays the whole of it, for in her hands, it somehow seems to flow naturally together, as though she has discovered a hidden narrative. Completely absorbing, and highly recommended.
Alessandra Ammara gives us the best recording of Schumann's Album für die Jugend since Michael Endres' reference version. She plays these teaching pieces like real music, and matches Endres' ability to project both the music's simple sentiments and inner sophistication. Granted, she over-points the odd crescendo and occasionally underlines an inner voice that only needs a little nudging, yet Ammara's strong rhythmic focus and dynamic contrasts vivify pieces where Schumann's signature dotted motives dominate (Nos. 7 and 33, for example). The pianist also phrases the lyrical pieces' attractive tunes as if she were a great lieder singer (No. 28 is especially captivating), while even thrice-familiar selections like No. 10 (The Happy Farmer) benefit from an invigorating accent or unexpected change of hue. Arts Music's surround-sound engineering is marvelously full and realistic, and scarcely less so via conventional two-channel stereo playback. Strongly recommended.
Much impressed by Alessandra Ammara’s recording of Giacinto Scelsi’s Preludes, I was more than enthusiastic about hearing her tackle these ‘essence of Romanticism’ masterpieces.
Given state of the art sound with an excellent piano recording, every nuance of Ammara’s performance is held up for close scrutiny, and to my ears she comes up trumps with just about every aspect of Carnaval. This is one of those edgy, almost literally schizophrenic pieces which darts between salon waltz, manic joy and tender emotion. I’ve lately been very much involved with the Eusebius and Florestan movements of this work for reasons I won’t go into here, but in many ways these two brief pieces sum up what I love about this recording. Eusebius, in its oh-so- few notes, manages to express the deepest sense of poetic sensitivity, introversion and other-worldliness. Ammara’s touch makes the notes rounded and small, almost reluctant to leave the soundboard of the piano. This is without them becoming timorous or vapidly ephemeral, conjuring more the image of a figure separate from the bustle and vulgarity of everyday life - breathing the air of flowers and gently sunlit perfection: vulnerable and untouchable, as well as with a magical power to transform the atmosphere around in an aura which is hard to forget. The alter ego Florestan is of course impetuous and flighty, but that ‘memory of a waltz’ is so beautifully placed here - a real sense of a wave of nostalgia at first putting the brakes on our hero’s sense of hectic fancy. This then of course breaks free and dances off without a care, though not without a sense of danger, to go off and dance with the Coquette.
All of these things occur within such fleeting moments, but Alessandra Ammara has clearly considered and weighed every bar, and every note in every bar, and the dimensions behind each note - all in an effective communication of Schumann’s difficult but magically narrative musical language. The Papillons flutter, the Lettres are very Dansantes, and the sense of Passionato, the spirit of Chopin and Paganini all have their own sense of individuality and strength of character, the moods portrayed and personified, the style and personality of Schumann’s idea of those colleague composers grasped and communicated to the full. There may be no such thing as a perfect recording of this piece, but if this is true then it is because the perfect performance would have to be some kind of live experience, the interaction of performer to audience creating some kind of alchemy which is impossible from a recording.
This is a performance which leaves no stone unturned, and which grips from beginning to end, and I am full of admiration for Ammara’s craft in achieving this.
Ammara almost seems to conceive the Davidsbündlertänze as a continuation of Carnaval, and in any case the programming is logical, with the former ending with the Marche des “Davidsbündler” contre les Philistins. Of course the moods of the two pieces coincide, with quotations leaping from the one to the other like fleas between livestock. Once again the quicksilver twists and turns take the listener on a convention-defying roller coaster of emotional highs and rare depths, and the performance here is both sensitive and exciting.
Comparing this recording of the Davidsbündlertänze with András Schiff’s 1995 Teldec recording highlights Ammara’s colourful and often more intimate playing. Take the fourth micro-movement, Ungeduldig, and we hear Schiff in full concert mode, exciting and loud, but having launched from a position of high impact having nowhere to go but louder and more. Ammara pulls back as much as she pushes on, and the duality of the rise and fall allows the melodic shape to remain expressive, despite some bracing and dynamic finger work elsewhere. Like Eroll Garner, her melody can seem to float on a different plane to the accompaniment, the fractional delay creating an extra layer of expressive content. For a visual comparison I am brought to Matt Groening’s animation. The sophisticated hand movements in ‘The Simpsons’ is done with the similar kind of flex and delay which Ammara applies in her Schumann melodies. You can see this effect best if you can slow down the action by thumbing through one of those flip-books in slow motion. Once you are aware of what is going on you can see it all over the place in those cartoons, and very effective it is as well.
To my mind this recording is something rather special. There are magical moments all over the place, and the richness of variety in colour, breathtaking sonorities and breadth of expression which Alessandra Ammara brings from a bunch of hammers and metal strings stretched over a plank of wood is something which remains eternally fascinating. This is of course all in the service of a rather special composer. As I grow older I find Schumann able to offer more and more in terms of a good emotional musical workout, though only with the particularly alive and closely observed kind of playing we get here. Schiff’s recorded performance is very good, and has been and remains highly regarded, but now I know why I found myself listening to it less and less. While his sensitivity and touch in the quieter movements can be poetic and elsewhere he is visceral and exciting, his dynamic extremes can be brutal and splashy in comparison to Ammara. She has no lack of contrast and can convey plenty of masculine force, but always seems to have power held in reserve: a sense that the explosions are climactic, but in terms of emotional impact rather than the kind which is more akin to a strike to the head with an aluminum baseball bat - impressive and immediate, but cold and ultimately less personal in terms of communication. If I don’t choose this as one of my discs of the year, put it down to administrative error.
Remember the good old days when your choice of recordings was limited? Remember when you could claim familiarity with every recording of these pieces? Those days may be gone forever, but I dare anyone to forget these performances once heard.
To begin with, the warm and enveloping sound of the Steinway D is magnificently caught by producer and sound engineer Andrea Alia; and the notes by Charles Rosen,
taken from his book The Romantic Generation, are all one could wish for. The young Italian pianist has won a host of competitions and has played with orchestras and ensembles worldwide. Her studies with Maria Tipo, Leon
Fleisher, and Fou Ts'ong helped hone her skills to a remarkable degree. Ballade 1 is all poetry here. The luscious melodies and emotional passions are played
with juicy abandon. The final coda tears away with a ferocity rarely encountered. Ballades 2-4 are played in a heart-on-sleeve manner instead of showing the usual aristocratic reserve. The intensity of the stormy middle
section of Ballade 2 is startling. The Fantasy is a colorful adventure in sound. Even the often performed Barcarolle becomes a more monumental structure in Ammara's hands. [...] This is indispensable among the many, many Chopin recitals.
As time progresses and more recordings appear of standard repertoire that dozens of other artists have covered, the question arises: are you happier with new releases that explore new ways of playing old music, or with new artists who play old music in the style of master musicians now dead and gone?
Such is the dilemma, for me, with this new release of the Chopin ballades, Fantaisie, Barcarolle, and the op. 30 Mazurkas. Alessandra Ammara, 36 years old, is hereby thrust into direct competition with some of the greatest Chopin masters of the last century, particularly Alfred Cortot, Walter Gieseking, Artur Rubinstein, and Shura Cherkassky. That she emerges not only unscathed but in a favorable light is no mean achievement; these earlier pianists were among the greatest artists of all time. That she doesn’t shed new light on these works is not surprising. Despite some individual touches of rubato, her phrasing is their phrasing. She plays deep in the keys, she has a wonderfully warm, rich tone, her phrasing is highly musical, and in the end one comes away with a very satisfying feeling of her ability to play this repertoire. In short, she doesn’t supplant Cortot, Rubinstein, et al., but she complements them very well indeed. Thus I view this CD more in the nature of a promotional flyer for Ammara, a sample of what you’ll hear if you go to one of her concerts. All well and good. She still has a way yet to grow as an artist insofar as finding her own unique voice and building drama, but she’s certainly on the right path. In essence, if you already have a recording of the ballades by Cortot or Rubinstein, or the Barcarolle by Gieseking (my favorite) or Cherkassky, or the Fantaisie by your favorite Chopin pianist, you will not necessarily need this record. But if you’re curious to hear a contemporary pianist play this music in their tradition, this is a splendid ticket-seller. I would most certainly attend an Ammara concert of Chopin based on the recommendation of this disc.
The sound quality is uncommonly good; even the quietest passages sounded lifelike without being over-resonant. Judging by their Web site (www.arsaures.com), this seems to be the start of a new CD line for Ars Aures, a highly respected Italian loudspeaker company. They’ve chosen well.
Lynn René Bayley
Ammara achieved a musical concentration and control which was truly magical. The gradations in her soft playing can only be dreamed about by most pianists and her shaping of Chopin's mazurkas took the audience deep into the soul of these highly expressive miniatures.
Ammara is a pianist of rare distinction, an artist who can capture the attention of an audience and take each listener on a memorable voyage into the deepest recesses of the art of music.