Antonio Pompa-Baldi, “After a Reading of Liszt: works of Lyapunov, Chopin, Liszt and Piana” performed by pianist Antonio Pompa-Baldi (2 Pianists live); Charles-Valentin Alkan, The Complete Vianna da Motta Transcriptions performed by pianists Vincenzo Maltempo and Emanuele Delucchi (Toccata Classics). Here are two stupendous discs of wildly unusual Romantic pianism featuring music that is often obscure and pianists who are anything but household words. Quite the most extraordinary one is the astonishing Lisztian recital by Italian pianist Antonio Pompa-Baldi, whose magnificent playing at a live recital in South Africa from June 2013 is matched by profoundly apt recorded sound. Chopin’s Etudes Op. 10 are not exactly obscure – the “Revolutionary” Etude in particular – but their Romantic extravagance is exciting and Pompa-Baldi’s performance of them is very special indeed. Nor are Liszt’s Ballade No.2 in B-Minor and “Ernani: Paraphrase de Concert” all that far off the beaten Lisztian path, however astonishingly well-played they are here. But the bookended pieces by Sergey Mikhaylovich Lyapunov and 42-year old composer Robert Piana, whose work gives the disc it’s title, make Liszt’s music into a kind of virtuoso climate of the piano of which Pompa-Baldi is an extravagant master.
Nothing by the great hermetic and fiendishly difficult piano composer Charles-Valentin Alkan is exactly commonplace anywhere, but what you’re hearing on the disc by the unfortunately named Vincenzo Maltempo, with help from pianist Emanuele Delucchi, is close to the height of obscurity, completely redeemed by the efforts of everyone involved. Alkan was said to be the only pianist who made Liszt nervous. We learn from Malcolm MacDonald’s excellent disc notes that Busoni, no less, thought Alkan “stood with Liszt, Chopin, Schumann and Brahms as one of the five greatest composers for the piano since Beethoven.” These are piano transcriptions by Portuguese composer Vianna Da Motta of music Alkan originally wrote for “piano a clavier de pedales,” which was akin to the organ but has not really emerged from history otherwise. It is certainly Romantic music, and married to its era, but such an original offshoot of Liszt that the disc’s uniqueness is self-evident all the way through. ΩΩΩΩ for Pompa-Barba, ΩΩΩ½ for Alkan performed by Maltempo and Emanuele Delucchi. (Jeff Simon)