Operatic Fantasies Vol.2
Introduction and Variations on a theme from Lucia di Lammermoor, Op.2
Rondo sulla Favorita
Souvenir of Linda de Chamounix, Op.13
Paraphrase on Barcarola del Marino Faliero
Remembranze del Trovatore, Op 21
Capriccio on airs by Balfe
Adrian Bradbury Cello
Oliver Davies Piano
Meridian CDE 84659
All great 19th century instrumental virtuosi were expected to write ‘novelties’ to play at their concerts. Often amateurs were good enough to play the serious works at home and the ‘stars’ gave their recitals as much to show how much better than average they were, as to provide insights into the great works of composers. The operatic fantasy was much beloved by Liszt for the piano and flautists made similar arrangements.
There was a fair chance big city audiences had seen the opera or heard vocal selections so that the instrumentalist could behave as a jazz player would now – going off at a tangent in a way which could pretend to be semi-improvised. The results are often trivial but technically impressive. In the concert hall they provide excellent light relief (and if the virtuoso slips on his perch like an acrobat, all the better).
On record, though, they are items for the library rather than sustained or frequent listening. Adrian Bradbury is providing such a service by disinterring these Piatti sweetmeats. Frankly, the music itself is only of academic interest and the technical circus act, while thrown off with panache, is as satisfying as a quick hit of candyfloss.
A good example is Piatti’s Souvenir of four numbers from Linda of Chamonix, one of Donizetti’s sillier operas. Piatti made the version in 1846, only four years after Donizetti’s premiere and performed it in many cities that were certainly never going to see the original. He did the same for Donizetti’s Marino Faliero, for which he had at least the excuse that he’d played in the first performance in Bergamo. In Piatti’s hands it reached out as far as Belfast. I suspect one would have left Piatti’s recital entertained but secretly grateful not to have sat through the whole operatic show.
Importantly, these works often had a personal connection for Piatti. If Adrian Bradbury doesn’t mind, I’m going to quote a whole paragraph from his comprehensive notes that establishes the context perfectly. “Piatti was a nine year-old orchestal cellist when Michael William Balfe (1808-1870) came to Bergamo in 1831 to sing in Pacini’s opera Gli Arabi nelle Gallie. Balfe, a violinist as well as a baritone, went on to find greater fame and fortune as a composer of ballads and operas, most of which were premiered at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, including The Maid of Artois (1836) and The Bohemian Girl (1843). He and Piatti were reaquainted at Her Majesty’s Theatre, London, in 1847, Balfe as conductor and Piatti as principal cello, and later that year in Jullien’s Grand English Opera season at Drury Lane, Balfe this time as the composer of a new work, The Maid of Honour, premiered under the baton of Berlioz. Towards the end of this lifelong friendship Balfe wrote a cello sonata for Piatti which was published posthumously.”
Now that would have peen a fun after show party: Louis Antoine Jullien, Michael Balfe, Alfredo Piatti and Hector Berlioz in Covent Garden! These are curiosities but one understands the circumstances of public music making 170 years ago much better for listening to them. Bradbury, in truth, does not always have the smoothest of sounds in comparison to some of Piatti’s equivalents today but then they would not have bothered to do his research or approached the music with such sympathy and dedication.