Review By Luca Segalla,Musica,March 2013
An album devoted to Cramer’s Studies, which for two hundred years now have provided generations of pianists with technical and stylistic work-outs, is something very unusual. Like the one hundred studies in Clementi’s Gradus ad Parnassum, the 84 Studies by Johann Baptist Cramer (1771-1858), have always been confined to the realm of teaching, a monument to piano technique known only to students of the instrument. This first complete survey has not come completely out of the blue however. In recent years the music world has shown a certain interest in the piano studies repertoire, as demonstrated by the work of Alessandro Marangoni, who has single-handedly recorded all one hundred pieces in Clementi’s Gradus. For the four books of
In the early days of his career Luisi, from the Italian city of Pescara, made a name for himself as a performer of Bach, although he has recently added Liszt’s Années de pèlerinage (Year II) and Rigoletto paraphrase to his discography. This love of Bach is key to understanding both his motivation to record the Cramer and the approach chosen by the three pianists for what might at first sight seem a rather dry repertoire, for Bach’s music, specifically The Well-tempered Clavier, which Cramer, like almost all pianists of his generation (including Beethoven), knew well, underpins the Studies. Reading between the lines of the repetitive technical formulas that run the length and breadth of these studies – as little known to audiences as they are well known to students – we find the Bachian design of the four-part chorale, which forms, to quote Piero Rattalino, a kind of “hidden framework”. This structure is most evident in studies such as Nos.72 and 41, the second of which has all the hallmarks of an organ work.
Onto the underlying chorale Cramer grafts melodic patterns in which legato and cantabile playing are always given pride of place, in line with Classical aesthetics. We are therefore a long way away here from the transcendental virtuosity that Chopin and Liszt would be experimenting with a few years later: Cramer always viewed the new, Romantic music with suspicion, despite living until the mid-nineteenth century. The Bach connection also explains why the performances given here by Luisi, Deljavan and Stuani are so neutral and “polite”, while all the time retaining the cantabile element so central to Cramer’s writing. The Studies are classically laid out on clear and rational lines, which respond well to this robust and clear-cut approach. We know from the recording he made a few