Since 2006 Italian pianist Alessandro Marangoni has been working with Naxos to record the piano music of Gioachino Rossini. Most of his efforts have been on the series of fourteen unpublished albums of music composed between 1857 and the composer’s death in 1868, all under the collective title Péchés de vieillesse (sins of old age). This collection includes seven volumes (IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, X and XII) for solo piano, one volume (IX) of chamber music that includes piano solos, and one (XIV) of both vocal and instrumental music that also includes piano solos.
Marangoni has now released six volumes in this series, two of which, Volume 1 and 4, have two CDs. Whether or not this is a complete account of Rossini’s piano music is unclear. On the basis of my attempts to track down that canon through other sources, I would say that the collection is now complete, particularly since Volume 6 seems to be a catch-all for those works not covered by the preceding volumes. Each volume has a title, which does not always encompass all of the music included:
- Album de Chaumière (cottage album)
- Album pour les enfants dégourdis (album for smart children)
- Album pour les enfants adolescents (album for adolescent children)
- Album de château (castle album)
- Quelques riens pour album (album of some little nothings)
- Quatre hors d’œuvres et quatre mendiants (four hors d’œuvres and four desserts)
One may gather from these titles that Rossini had a rich sense of humor, but those familiar with his comic operas would have already known that. Nevertheless, the wealth of material in these albums testifies to just how extensive that sense of humor could be and how he could tease it out of some of the most unlikely situations. My favorite may well be “Le beurre” movement from that set of four hors d’œuvres. This is a rather elaborate set of variations on a theme. Did Rossini conceive of all of those variations to celebrate the use of butter, not only in hors d’œuvres but in the entire domain of cooking?
Still, among all of these many selections, listeners might wonder whether any of them will be familiar. Those seeking such familiarity may want to begin getting to know this collection by starting with the fifth album in the set (the “little nothings”). In 1919 Léonide Massine created his one-act ballet “La Boutique fantasque” (the magic toyshop) for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. The music was drawn from Péchés de vieillesse, introduced to Massine and Diaghilev by Ottorino Respighi, who was then assigned the text of selecting pieces for the ballet and orchestrating them. For those familiar with this ballet or Respighi’s arrangement, several of those “little nothings” will definitely ring familiar.
I have to say also that I am particularly fond of this particular volume, because it demonstrates how much wit Rossini could summon up in such a short duration. That does not detract from the humor of the extended “variations on butter.” However, having listened to all of Marangoni’s albums, I have to say that Rossini had a tendency to stretch some of his wit into too long a duration (a problem that also arises in his operas). Each of those “little nothings” pieces is, indeed, little; but to dismiss any one of them as a “nothing” would be false modesty.
In conclusion I would say that those uncertain about how deeply they wish to get into this side of Rossini would definitely do well to begin with the fifth CD in Marangoni’s set, but those most enthusiastic about Rossini will probably get just as much of a kick out of the entire collection.