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Dancing Goblins

Music by Bazzini -
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'... Hanslip brings it off with suitable aplomb.'

Antonio Bazzini: Virtuoso Works for Violin and Piano. Chloë Hanslip and Caspar Frantz. © 2008 Naxos Rights International Ltd

Destiny has been less than generous to Brescia-born violin virtuoso-composer Antonio Bazzini. The popularity he has long enjoyed stems almost solely from his dazzling Opus 25, 'Dance of the Goblins' (La Ronde des Lutins), a show-stopper pretty well every international concert violinist has at his/her fingertips.

Listen -- Bazzini: La Ronde des Lutins
(track 13, 4:06-4:53) © 2008 Naxos Rights International Ltd

Here we discover 'LRdL' takes up just 4 minutes 55 seconds of Chloë Hanslip's 1 hour, 10 minute, 47 second CD devoted entirely to Bazzini's entertaining violin music.

To begin with let's dispense with La Ronde .... Like so many others Hanslip dashes it off with appropriate sizzling élan. However no-one today dispatches it with the mercurial frisson of the eighteen-year-old Yehudi Menuhin (1934) and pianist Marcel Gazelle (EMI References). And who, if anyone, can match the crystalline exactitude of Alfredo Campoli (1947) with pianist Eric Gritton (on Biddulph Records)?

Similar wizardry is evident from Czech virtuoso Vasa Prihoda (1901-1960) with pianist Otto Graf (Symposium Records, 1935).

Aside from this one mandatory morsel, Hanslip presents two stand-alone items; Calabrese (Op 34 No 6) and Le Carrilon d'Arras (Op 36); the former also recorded by the teenage Menuhin.

As a youngster Antonio was much influenced by Paganini's art and style. At seventeen he was appointed organist of a Brescian church. During four years from 1843, while studying in Leipzig, he devoted himself to Bach and Beethoven. Bazzini was admired by Schumann and Mendelssohn, and toured in Spain, Denmark, France and Germany. At the Milan Conservatory, he taught Catalani and Mascagni, key progenitors of the Italian 'verisimo' movement. He also taught and was much influenced by Puccini.

Clearly, whatever his standing in the annals of 19th century composition, Bazzini was a gifted melodist. He died in Milan on 10 February 1897.

Listen to the wistful 'Romance' from Trois morceaux en forme de sonate, Op 44 and its relaxing Schubertian finale marked 'Allegro vivace'; light years from Paganini/Liszt-style pyrotechnics, or his own Op 25. This work is quite delightful, highly civilised with an opening 9+ minute 'Allegro giusto' (again like Schubert) impressing more by its melodic development than its harmonic drama.

Listen -- Bazzini: Allegro vivace (Trois morceaux en forme de sonate)
(track 12, 0:00-0:58) © 2008 Naxos Rights International Ltd

Hanslip and Frantz are again in nicely balanced accord though I would like to hear the Trois morceaux ... from a team that infuse medium-impact music with added-value character; Jennifer Koh, violin and Reiko Uchida, piano with Cedille Records spring to mind, as does veteran Kyung Wha Chung (aged sixty) with one of her former accompanists -- ideally Radu Lupu (aged sixty two).

The outright impact and captivating beauty of Trois morceaux lyriques Op 41 seems likely to have still more immediate popular appeal. For the central 'Scherzo' Bazzini has apparently paid off his goblins (Op 25) and co-opted musical elves. And they follow on from an opening 'Nocturne' that's positively Chopinesque -- a true gem. But for a couple of nano-cadenzas, 'Berceuse', the last of these aptly-titled pieces, has an aura of dreamlike resignation.

The spell is broken as we're thrown in gulping for breath with Le Carillon d'Arras Op 16, a virtuoso showpiece subtitled 'Flemish Air Varié'. Bazzini may have visited Arras, 174 kilometres slightly north east of Paris, while he lived in the French capital from 1852-1864.

He'd have found the city at the confluence of the Rivers Scarpe and Crinchon. It is renowned for an eye-catching Baroque town square. Arras belfry (75 metres high; topped by a golden lion waving a sun, symbol of the King) was designed in Gothic-style by architect Jacques le Caron and built through the years 1463-1554.

Along with the Town Hall (1502-1506), the Belfry was destroyed during the First World War though cleverly and accurately rebuilt between 1924 and 1932. The lovely buildings display a mixture of both baroque and renaissance style architecture due to the additions of Napoleon III. The belfry of Arras, with its carillon of forty bells, was classified in July 2005 as part of the 'World Inheritance of Humanity' by UNESCO along with 22 other belfries of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region and the Somme.

Bazzini doesn't evoke the sound of bells with the accuracy or clarity of his friend Paganini in La Campanella (from the Concerto No 2 in B minor). Instead it turns out that Le Carillon d'Arras consists of successive variations on a simple, benign, melodic theme. Along the way however there's more than sufficient fire and brimstone to keep punters happy; rapid runs, and a cocktail of ricochet bowing, double stopping, harmonics, left hand pizzicato and formidable string crossing. Plus segments of swooning legato and an injection of concluding arpeggios. Needless to say, Hanslip handles it all with ease while Frantz tags effectively along.

Deux morceaux de salon Op 12 consists of 'Le Depart' and 'Le Retour'; skillfully crafted contrasting pieces, unmistakably depicting the emotions their titles indicate. The departure expresses sorrow periodically intermingled with passion; the return bursts with ebullience and barely containable joy.

Following mood music, the duo perform Deux grandes études Op 49. As sleeve note writer Bruce Schueneman succinctly puts it, the second étude amounts to little more than a 'test of endurance in playing a smoothly-flowing stream of semiquavers lasting from almost beginning to end'. But for a momentary blemish in the closing moments, Hanslip brings it off with suitable aplomb. The second étude is a tad more substantial with better shape, some development and a central operatic-lyrical episode.

Listen -- Bazzini: Allegro giusto (Deux grandes études)
(track 9, 5:04-6:35) © 2008 Naxos Rights International Ltd

For those keen to explore Bazzini more fully, let me suggest his Complete String Quartets, Opp 75, 76, 79, 80, 82, posth. They're available on three Dynamic Records DDD CDs with the Quartetto D'Archi di Venezia (recorded in Genoa between December 2001 and March 2002, with a total playing time of three hours and 42 minutes).

'Mostly Dead' was the diagnosis of Miracle Max (Billy Crystal) when confronted with the savagely tortured body of hero Westley (Cary Elwes) in the classic family film The Princess Bride (1987). Miracle Max might well have concluded the (Naxos) Bazzini programme is 'Mostly Enjoyable.'

For my money best of the bunch is Three pieces in the form of a sonata, Op 44. And I've always been a sucker for those wildly dancing goblins.

Copyright © 19 November 2008 Howard Smith, Masterton, New Zealand




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