Rosemary Tuck / Richard Bonynge / English Chamber Orchestra

Czerny: Bel Canto Concertante

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Carl Czerny's music, after more than a century of neglect, is enjoying a mild revival, and this release marks the beginning of a series of Czerny piano-and-orchestra recordings from Naxos, the completist's abundant playground. The album explores what is indeed one of the most frequent genres in Czerny's output, the set of variations on famous operatic airs of the day. Once listeners hear the Introduction, Variations, et Presto Finale sur un Thème favori de l'Opéra Norma de Bellini, Op. 281, they'll pretty much have absorbed Czerny's bag of tricks: a two- or three-part structure, with bits of contrast and periodic quasi-sonata moves or other Beethovenian gestures thrown in (the final Introduction and Variations Brillantes sur le Marche favori de l'Opéra Gli Arabi nelle Gallie de Pacini, Op. 234s), and, most of all, lots of brilliant writing in the piano's top register. This last is ill-served by Naxos' church engineering here; the piano's high notes are lost, and the otherwise able English Chamber Orchestra is somehow made to sound both harsh and hollow. Yet there is material here that enables one to hear why Czerny was well-loved until Schumann came along, blew him out of the water, and delivered the withering judgment that it would be hard to imagine a failure of imagination greater than Czerny's. The Op. 234 variations borrow convincingly from Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat major, Op. 73, a work Czerny premiered, without just aping it, and the vigorous and lengthy Polacca section in the Introduction, Variations, et Polacca dans le style brillant sur la Cavatine favorite "Tu vedrai la sventurata" chantée par M. Rubini dans l'Opéra Il Pirata de Bellini, Op. 160, contains the seeds of the later Romantics' preoccupation with Eastern Europe. Pianist Rosemary Tuck is a precise technician, perhaps an ideal inheritor of the "school of velocity" Czerny founded. Of greater interest to Czerny specialists than to general listeners.

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