Stefan Irmer

Rossini: Piano Works, Vol. 7

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Gioachino Rossini's Pêches de Vieillesse (Sins of Old Age) are often recorded in ones and pairs, but there's something to be said for recording them all, as German pianist Stefan Irmer is doing in the series of which this disc forms the seventh volume. Taken as a group, these piano pieces emerge as something more than the trifles that even Rossini sometimes represented them as. The works on this album, far from being salon entertainment, are in the main unlike anything else ever written for the piano. The shorter ones are something like harmonic demonstrations, several of them using putatively Chinese scales (it would be a worthwhile research project to figure out exactly what he was hearing, which seems to have involved a whole-tone scale); they consist of harmonized ascending and descending scales, or sequences of harmonies that can generate the tones of the chromatic scale. Some of the titles are so odd that you wonder whether Satie might have taken the set for inspiration; track 1, a depiction of a walk between the Paris suburbs of Passy and Courbevoie, is surely the only musical work marked with the performance indication "homéopathiquement." There are four longer works, and these are equally interesting. Three are representations of the past, present, and future, respectively entitled Spécimen de l'ancien régime, Spécimen de mon temps, and Spécimen de l'avenir. Each of these is loaded with references to contemporary musical culture; the final one is, broadly speaking, a parody of the music of Wagner and Liszt. The spirit of the music is both impetuous and intelligent, a combination trenchantly captured by Irmer on a 1901 Steinway piano and beautifully recorded by the engineers of the MDG label. Strongly recommended for Rossinians or for anyone enamored of the culture of the middle nineteenth century.

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