Paolo Giacometti

Rossini: Quatre Hors d'Oeuvres, Quatre Mendiants

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After many decades when the public took Rossini's deprecating attitude toward his late piano works at face value, they have exploded in popularity, with various new individual recordings and several full cycles on the market. The sly, arcane humor of many of these works is susceptible to several entirely distinct interpretations, but one could do worse than stick with the fine cycle by Italian-Dutch pianist Paolo Giacometti. He performs on an 1858 Pleyel instrument close to the one Rossini would have known, and in the razzle-dazzle climaxes such as that of La réjouissance, track 11, where Rossini drops the comedy for sheer excitement (they're really not far from the big finishes of his earlier opera arias) that piano has just the right sound -- close to a modern grand but without the booming resonance. Elsewhere Giacometti strikes just the right intimate note in music that was intended for listeners who could follow its little jokes. This is the final disc in Giacometti's series. The food theme illustrated on the cover is rather loosely based on the opening Quatre Hors d'Oeuvres and on the concluding Quatre Mendiants (Four Mendicants), in which four mendicant orders -- Franciscans, Carmelites, Dominicans, and Augustines -- are color-coded by habit and assigned an appropriate food. That sounds a bit involved for casual comprehension, and in general Rossini's titles are fanciful rather than synaesthetic. Do the opening "hors d'oeuvres" resemble the foods they depict? Perhaps there's something buttery about the smoothly sensual opening music of "Le beurre" (track 4), but the music moves into energetic variations that are hard to connect with the subject. In other places, though, the link between these works and the music and attitude of Satie seems to close to coincidental. The Ritournelle Gothique (track 6) needs only a slightly less definitive focus on a tonic center to be brought into the realm of Satie's neo-medieval pieces. Two works that are in the nature of chromatic experiments, Tourniquet sure la gamme chromatique, ascendante et descendante and Encore un peu de blague (the latter title translates as a little more silliness), are nicely related to the rest of the music in Giacometti's interpretation; the humor of most of the music, which subverts its own simple forms with mischievous little harmonic twists, is rooted in the kind of exploration of the corners of the tonal system that is carried out a bit more systematically in these two pieces, and Giacometti finds a light touch that works throughout. Strongly recommended, despite the unidentifiable and unappetizing black mass of food on the plate on the cover.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 07:05
2 05:32
3 04:35
Péchés de vieillesse, Book 4 (Quatre mendiants & quatre hors d'oeuvres)
4 08:06
Musique Anodine, prelude & 6 songs for voice(s) & piano (settings of Mi lagnerò tacendo), QR iv/62
5 01:51
6 01:49
7 03:30
8 04:13
9 06:46
10 02:13
11 02:52
12 05:11
13 05:26
14 06:05
15 03:42
blue highlight denotes track pick