Pietro Spada

Donizetti: Complete Piano Music (Box Set)

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Pietro Spada seems to get stuck on a composer, recording every scrap of piano music by that composer and filling discs with music that would otherwise most likely never be publicly heard. In this case, he's filled three discs with the solo piano music of Gaetano Donizetti, a composer much better known for his operas than anything else. While listening to the first disc, it becomes obvious why, and the set is at least one-and-a-half discs more than is necessary to demonstrate this. The single-movement works on disc one are all very much in the vein of Mozart and Haydn's piano sonatas: graceful, charming, not at all virtuosic or even pianistic compared to the contemporary works of Beethoven, Schubert, and Chopin. In the notes, Spada calls these the "meatiest" of Donizetti's piano works, which says something about the rest of the set. The second disc begins with several waltzes, which again are charming, but are not much more than a single melodic line accompanied by the oom-pah-pah bass, all in positive-sounding major modes, as are most of the works. The sinfonias on this disc are really the best works in the entire set. These were obviously meant as starting points for orchestral works. The emotion, melody, and harmony in these is more varied, and they make much better use of the capabilities of the instrument. The third disc contains several unsophisticated works: a fugue that isn't a fugue; a pastorale with a droning left hand; a Grande Offertorio that sounds like a knockoff of a Rossini overture, not something that would ever be used in a Mass; and sets of variations that hardly ever alter the humor or harmony of the original theme. Spada deserves some thanks for his dedication to uncovering music and making sure it's available for posterity to judge its worth, but truthfully, this is one of those cases where posterity has better things to do.

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