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Andrea Lucchesini plays Luciano Berio's Piano Music

Avie AV2104 (2006)

At last... the Berio disc that afficionados have been waiting for; performances of the complete piano music by the interpreter closest to the composer.

It promises much and does not disappoint, featuring a beautifully-recorded, translucent piano sound that matches the clarity of the interpretation.

The Sonata (2001) is of course the major work on the disc. Completed just before Berio's death, yet instantly recognised as an important composition for piano - a marker of quality laid down at the beginning of the 21st Century.

Berio's own description of the rhetoric is succinct:

All Sonatas, no matter of which time and from which place, initiate and develop, always and in every case, a dialogue between different characters of expressions, between structural identities and techniques, between continuity and discontinuance, between the simple and the complex, between presence and absence... In my “Sonata” - that dialogue is certainly present, but its distribution over time, i.e. its syntax, is indifferent to the nature of its own expressive characters.

This ‘indifference' is clearly felt by the listener. Material is presented, juxtaposed, developed in a seemingly improvisational manner, yet a dramatic structure builds throughout, not least through the hypnotically repeated B-flat. The piece demands a multitude of piano timbres, here seemingly effortlessly produced by Lucchesini.

For performers of the piece this recording is an invaluable document - not just as a Berio-approved interpretation, but also as a source of inspiration. With Lucchesini, even the fastest chordal flurries are beautifully voiced, and pedalling remains clear at all times. A performance to aspire to. There are also detailed sleevenotes describing Lucchesini's work with the composer, a passage from which I must reproduce here for its lucidity:

... I remember how he insisted on a sort of virtuosity in the instrumental gesture, understood as the ability to change, continuously and brusquely, both the procedure of the keystrokes and the timbric quality of every phrase. This generated, he felt, a mechanism of expectancy and a heightening of the surprise whose effect was to be very similar to that of an improvisation - despite the fact that even here the score is very detailed and stringent. This variability of performance attitudes calls for the constant attention, interrupted only by the long silence of the scored pauses, which indeed he encouraged me to prolong, almost as if to provide the time necessary for recharging the tension for the next sound event.

There is also a fascinating note from the Sonata's dedicatee, Reinhold Brinkmann, discussing issues that affect our perceptions of monumental works such as this.

The disc includes superb interpretations of Rounds (1967), and Cinque Variazoni (1952/1953 - revised 1966.) The performance of the Six Encores is without a doubt the best that I have heard, with extreme characterization of the different elements. This is something that many performers tend to underplay in comparison, perhaps thinking that the composer has done all the work for them.

The Sequenza IV has never been a favourite of mine, and while Lucchesini plays it well, I still remain unable to love this piece in the way that I do the vast majority of Berio's ouevre. It just doesn't grab me.

The disc is completed by two unpublished piano duets both written in 1991, played by Lucchesini with his pianist wife, Valentina Pagni Lucchesini. Berio was a witness at their wedding and wrote Touch as a gift for them. The second duet, Canzonetta, was a gift to Valentina's parents. They are both charming, and one hopes that they will become available to other performers, their brief length making them ideal as encores for two-piano recitals. ( Touch is 1 minute 47 seconds, Canzonetta 51 Secs)

Aleks Szram