Roberto Plano / Quartetto Noferini

Sgambati: Piano Quintets; String Quartets

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Giovanni Sgambati's music, even his superb Requiem mass, is rarely performed, and the four chamber pieces here qualify as real obscurities. To those in the know in the third quarter of the 19th century, though, his name would have been quite familiar, and these contemporary observers had it right. Sgambati was one of the few Romantic composers to write chamber music. His path crossed those of both Liszt and Wagner, both of whom admired him. These works are not chamber music in the style of Liszt and Wagner, nor conservative works in the style of Brahms, whose music Sgambati knew well. It is something entirely different that might be regarded as a combination of the radical and conservative strains but really resembles nothing else you've ever heard. Sgambati writes in the classical forms but fills them in with a sort of hyperemotional content. He does not write operatic melody; the music is quite contrapuntally dense, and the later of each pair (string quartets and piano quintets) is chromatically more involved. The late works of Beethoven (whose music Sgambati often performed as conductor), in the ecstatic and strongly contrapuntal slow movements, are another influence. These are fine performances by Italy's Quartetto Noferini and pianist Roberto Plano that catch the slightly overheated quality of the music. But really the recording invites others: the Romantic chamber repertory, it would seem, has just been permanently expanded, and one can only marvel at the fact that Sgambati, working in virtual isolation, produced music of such sterling quality and utter originality. Highly recommended.

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