Naxos seems poised to become the first label in history to record Gioachino Rossini's Péchés de vieillesse (Sins of Old Age) -- at least the volumes intended for solo piano -- as a contiguous set. This is pianist Alessandro Marangoni in the whole of Péchés, Vol. 6, the "Album pour les enfants dégourdis" (Album for Smart Kids) minus the Étude asthmatique, which simply doesn't fit on this already 78-minute CD (it's going to be kicked ahead into an another volume later in the series). These are not small "sins"; although some pieces are short enough to qualify as miniatures, they average about six to nine minutes in length and two top the 11-minute mark. Usually the Péchés are recorded in select form or used to fill out another program, and Ottorino Respighi fashioned his fanciful ballet La Boutique Fantasque out of a few of them. This Naxos disc, however, provides the opportunity to understand them within their own context. Rossini was a composer who appropriated no more from romanticism than what he needed to make his overtures sound bigger and badder; once you got into the opera part of his operas his music was more or less completely classical in approach. In the Péchés, which date from the last decade of Rossini's life, the old composer was finally up to date with current trends, but interestingly he has little or no interest in the German side of the romantic coin; this music is strongly informed by the example of French opera and ballet. Several of the pieces bear silly titles -- "Mon prélude hygénique du matin" and "Valse torturée" for example -- and on the whole they are not grand statements either technically nor artistically; "La Pesarese," for example, could be played by a decent third grade or intermediate pianist without even breaking a sweat. However, "Memento homo" is an exception, being a very dark and serious piece that opens with a severe and uncharacteristic parallel modulation unusual for its time. While essentially conservative stylistically, one senses continuity with the spirit of Satie in a lot of this music, given its moribund surface features, simulations of deliberately banal music hall tunes, and general irreverence; its lack of ambition and disdain of seriousness actually makes it interesting. Pianist Alessandro Marangoni is wise to play this music mostly as it lays, without going the extra distance to dress it up; Naxos' recording is a little distant, but good. While Rossini's Album for Smart Kids probably won't build one's brain or raise one's blood pressure level like, say, the overture to La Gazza Ladra, it may well serve as something nice to play while housecleaning, entertaining guests, or other tasks that do not require a great deal of concentration, but might call for suitably elegant entertainment.
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AllMusic Review by Uncle Dave Lewis
|Péchés de vieillesse, Book 6 (Album pour les enfants dégourdis)|