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ClassicsOnline Home » PIATTI, A.: 12 Caprices / Caprice on a Theme from Pacini's Niobe (Soo Bae)
Playing the rich-toned and highly responsive Stradivarius ‘Bonjour’ cello of 1696, on loan to her from the Canada Council of the Arts, the Canadian cellist Soo Bae interprets Alfredo Piatti’s technically demanding and emotionally rewarding Capriccio on a theme from Pacini’s opera Niobe and his virtuosic Twelve Caprices with seeming effortlessness. Winner of the 2005 Concert Artists Guild International Competition, and selected by Musical America as ‘New Artist of the Month’ (March 2009), Soo Bae enjoys a busy international career.
By David Hurwitz
Soo Bae: Cello Recital:
Alfredo Piatti (1822–1901)
Capriccio sopra un tema della Niobe di Pacini, Op. 22 • Dodici Capricci, Op. 25
The name of Alfredo Piatti must be known to every cellist, reared on his Méthode de violoncelle, with its examples from Dotzauer, Duport, Kummer, Sebastian Lee, Romberg and others. Piatti was born in Bergamo, the son of a violinist, Antonio Piatti, leader of the Bergamo orchestra, who gave him early violin lessons. He studied the cello with his great-uncle, Gaetano Zanetti, and at the age of eight was allowed to play in the theatre orchestra, where he later succeeded Zanetti. The Bergamo maestro di cappella Simon Mayr was sufficiently impressed by Piatti to have him play a cello solo in a local festival, to the annoyance of Vincenzo Merighi, an experienced player and professor at the Milan Conservatory, who might have been expected to play it. The incident may have influenced Merighi when, at the age of ten, Piatti applied for admission to the Milan Conservatory, at first refused a place, but eventually admitted as a pupil of Merighi, with whom he studied during the next five years, following the method of the French cellist Jean-Louis Dupont who, with his brother, served at the court of Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia. Duport’s method emphasized the importance of double-stopping as a technical basis. Piatti made his public début as soloist in a concerto of his own.
The following years brought concert tours for Piatti with his father, at first locally and then further afield. While enjoying artistic success, he suffered financial difficulties and illness during a visit to Pest forced him to sell his cello and rely on the kindness of a friend from Bergamo for his journey home. During the course of this he passed through Munich and accepted an invitation from Liszt to join him in a concert, using a borrowed instrument. It was Liszt who encouraged Piatti to move to Paris, where he made his début in 1844, and Liszt who gave him a cello by Nicolò Amati. In May he gave his first concert in London, followed by series of further engagements in London and elsewhere in Britain, playing Mendelssohn’s Sonata in D major with the composer, before travelling to Russia, and thence back to Milan. In 1846 he returned once more to England, where he fulfilled a number of engagements and in May 1847 appeared in a private concert with Mendelssohn, whose last visit to England this was. Mendelssohn suggested the possibility of composing a cello concerto for Piatti, a work that, if it was ever written, in whole or in part, has been lost.
London proved a musically congenial home for Piatti during the years that followed, bringing quartet recitals with Ernst, Joachim and Wieniawski and, from 1859, regular recitals in a quartet led by Joachim, with Reiss and Straus, at the London Popular Concerts. As a soloist he appeared in his own two Cello Concertos and his Cello Concertino and in 1866 in a concerto written for him by Arthur Sullivan. The following year he was able to acquire a Stradivarius instrument, later known as ‘The Piatti’, supplementing the Pietro Giacomo Rogeri that he had used for a number of years. He taught at the Royal Academy of Music and privately, with pupils including Hausmann, Whitehouse and Squire, and did much to establish cello repertoire in editions of earlier music for the instrument.
Piatti had his training as a composer with the German violinist-composer Bernhard Molique, future professor of composition at the Royal College of Music in London, where his text-book Studies in Harmony was published in 1862. Molique’s compositions, now largely forgotten, include a Cello Concerto for Piatti, a work that won contemporary popularity. Piatti’s own compositions include a number of shorter pieces for the cello, four Cello Sonatas and a Fantasia romantica for cello and orchestra or piano, in addition to the two concertos and the concertino already mentioned.
In England Piatti had married Mary Ann Welsh, the daughter of the singer and singing teacher Thomas Welsh, a grandson of the elder Thomas Lindley, a marriage that resulted in the birth of a daughter, but seemingly little other satisfaction. In 1898 Piatti retired and finally moved to Cadenabbia, on Lake Como. He spent the final months of his life at the home of his daughter, the widow of Count Lochis, at Crocette di Mozzo, his death in July 1901 the occasion of public mourning, with the Andante from Schubert’s Quartet in D minor played, according to his wishes, and repeated on further anniversaries.
Piatti’s Capriccio sopra un tema della Niobe di Pacini, Op. 22, was published in 1865, with a dedication to his friend, the cellist Guglielmo Quarenghi. The composition dates from an earlier period in the composer’s life and Piatti is said to have played it as early as 1843 at a concert in Pest, testimony to his remarkable ability. Pacini’s opera Niobe had been first performed at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples in 1826. The theme chosen is simple enough in essence, the cavatina I tuoi frequenti palpiti, also used in 1836 by Liszt for a piano Divertissement, and by other composers of the time. It is first heard after a short introduction and cadenza, with accompanying figuration. The theme is treated in various ways, appearing in a D minor Lento, a 3/4 D major Allegro, and a final Più presto. It need hardly be added that the piece makes heavy technical demands on a performer.
The Twelve Caprices, Op. 25, were published in Berlin in 1875. Caprice No. 1, in G minor and marked Allegro quasi presto, is a semiquaver study, with the melody in the lower part, alternating at first with the open D string, and preserving the same pattern throughout. Caprice No. 2, in E flat major and marked Andante religioso, starts with a hymn-like chordal passage, before an expressive melody appears, with its own accompanying figuration. The chordal passage returns slightly varied, followed by the second element and ending quietly with the return of part of the opening, further transformed. Caprice No. 3, in B flat major and marked Moderato, makes considerable use of the thumb position and passages of octaves, characterized throughout by a repeated rhythm. Caprice No. 4 in D minor, an Allegretto, includes repeated sections in its first part, before a slower legato passage, before the return of the material of the first section. Caprice No. 5, in F major and marked Allegro comodo, makes use of bowed arpeggios and bowed staccato, moving forward to a rapider operatic melody, accompanied by arpeggio figuration, after which the material of the opening section returns. In A flat major, Caprice No. 6 is marked Adagio largamente. Its first section is followed by a central section of two-part writing in the tonic minor key, followed by the return of the opening. Caprice No. 7, in C major and marked Maestoso, is based on bowed arpeggio figuration, with an operatic melody emerging in the bass. With the direction Moderato ma energico and in A minor, Caprice No. 8 offers material of marked rhythm, moving into a high register before a passage of octave writing and the return of the opening pattern. Caprice No. 9, in D major, an Allegro, is in 12/8 and makes use of spiccato bowing, its melody emerging from the surrounding accompanying figuration. Marked Allegro deciso, Caprice No. 10 is in B minor and is again dominated by a repeated rhythmic pattern, making use of the higher range of the cello. It ends with a brief Adagio a piacere, before the three closing bars of Allegro deciso. Caprice No. 11, in G major, starts with a chordal Adagio introduction, soon followed by an Allegro in which a melody is heard above a bowed accompaniment. The Adagio returns in conclusion. The set ends with Caprice No. 12, an Allegretto capriccioso in E minor. Here Piatti finds room for a display of artificial harmonics, contrasted with the lower register of the cello. The texture is largely dominated by bowed staccato and is based on a repeated rhythmic pattern, concluding a collection of studies that call for a high degree of technical virtuosity.
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