THALBERG: Piano Concerto in F Minor / Souvenirs de Beethoven

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Sigismond Thalberg (1812-1871)

Piano Concerto in F minor, Op. 5

Souvenirs de Beethoven: Grande fantaisiepour le piano sur la 7' Symphonie de Beethoven, Op. 39

Nocturne, Op. 28 Canzonette italienne,Op. 36, No.5

Un Soupir, Melodie variee pour piano

Some mystery surrounds the birth andparentage of the virtuoso pianist Sigismond Thalberg, popularly supposed tohave been the illegitimate son of Count Moritz Dietrichstein and the Baronessvon Wetzlar, born at P?óquis near Geneva in 1812. His birth certificate,however, provides him with less distinguished but relatively legitimateparentage as the alleged son of a citizen of Frankfurt, Joseph Thalberg and acertain and possibly pseudonymous Fortune Stein. There seems, therefore, noparticular reason to suppose the name Thalberg an invention. Legend, however,provides the story of the Baroness proclaiming him a valley (Thai) that wouldone day rise to the heights of a mountain (Berg). Thalberg's schooling took himto Vienna, where his fellow-pupil the Duke of Reichstadt, Napoleon's son,almost persuaded him to take up a military career. Musical interests finallytriumphed and he was able to study with Simon Sechter and with Mozart's pupilHummel. In Vienna he performed at private parties, making a particular impressionwhen, as a fourteen-year-old, he played at the house of Prince Metternich. By1828 he had started the series of compositions that were to prove an importantand necessary concoruitant of his career as a virtuoso. In 1830 he undertookhis first concert tour abroad, to England, where he had lessons from Moscheles.

In 1834 he was appointed Kammervirtuos to the Emperor in Vienna and thefollowing year appeared in Paris, where he had lessons from Kalkbrenner andPixis.

Paris in the 1830s was a city of pianists.

The Conservatoire was full of them, while salons and the show-rooms of thechief piano-manufacturers Erard and Pleyel resounded with the virtuosity ofKalkbrenner, Pixis, Herz and, of course, Liszt. The rivalry between Thalbergand Liszt was largely fermented by the press. Berlioz became the champion ofthe latter, while Fetis trumpeted the achievements of Thalberg. Liszt, at thetime of Thalberg' s arrival in Patis, was in Switzerland, where he had retiredwith his mistress, the Comtesse Marie d' Agoult. It was she who wrote, underLiszt's name, a disparaging attack on Thalberg, to which Fetis replied inequally offensive terms. The so-called revolutionary princess, PrincessBelgiojoso, achieved a remarkable social coup when she persuaded the two virtuosito play at her Patis salon in a concert in aid of Italian refugees. As in othersuch contests, victory was tactfully shared between the two. Thalberg playedhis Moses Fantasy and Liszt answered with his new paraphrase fromPacini's opera Niobe. The Princess declared Thalberg the first pianistin the world, while Liszt, she said, was unique. She went on to commission aseries of variations on a patriotic theme from Bellini's I puritani fromthe six leading pianists in Patis, a project to which Liszt, Thalberg, Chopin,Pixis, Herz and Czerny contributed. This composite work, Hexameron, remainedin Liszt's concert repertoire.

Musical journalism has created a legend ofThalberg's defeat and departure from Patis and of continuing rivalry betweenhim and Liszt. An element of competition remained, although there seems to havebeen no open animosity, and Liszt wrote a letter of condolence to Thalberg'swidow after her husband's death in 1871. Thalberg enjoyed a career of thegreatest distinction, touring as far as the Americas, where Liszt never went,with recitals in Brazil and Havana and an extended stay with the violinistVieuxtemps in the United States, where, in the space of two years, he gave 56recitals in New York, with a repertoire chiefly but not exclusively devoted tohis own compositions. Liszt, meanwhile, included some of Thalberg's operaticparaphrases and fantasies, which, through Marie d' Agoult, he had once publiclyseemed to disparage, in his own repertoire.

In 1843 in Paris, Thalberg had marriedCecchina, a daughter of the famous Italian bass Luigi Lablache, widow of thepainter Bouchot. Attempts at operatic composition proved unsuccessful, with Florinda,staged in London in 1851 and Cristina di Svezia (Christina ofSweden) in Vienna four years later. His career as a virtuoso continued until1863, when he retired to Posilippo, near Naples, to occupy himself for hisremaining years primarily with his vineyards. He died there in 1871.

Thalberg's Piano Concerto in F minor,Opus 5 is a relatively early work. The first movement opens with theexpected orchestral exposition, presenting two contrasting subjects, before theentry of the soloist with an elaboration of the material. There is much scopefor virtuosity in what follows, in particular in a demanding and variedcadenza. There is a brief orchestral introduction to the Adagio, withcontinued suggestions that the music comes from a period when Chopin too wasstarting to make a name for himself, although Thalberg is said to have foundthe latter's relatively subdued nuances too underplayed. There is here,however, a similar use of embellished operatic melody. The soloist offersimmediate contrast in the mood of the principal theme of the final Rondo, withits varying episodes.

Souvenirs de Beethoven: Grande fantaisiepour le piano sur la 7' Symphonie deBeethoven, Opus 39 was written in the 1830s and finally published in 1840.

It starts with a passage that, in its figuration, seems to justify Liszt'sapparent reference to Thalberg as the Chevalier de Tremolo. There aredistant suggestions of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, duly transformed,before the emergence of the principal theme of the Allegretto of thesecond movement, here marked Andante, material which is then subject topianistic embellishment of increasing brilliance and intensity. The A majorsection, transformed from its original, follows, before a due return to A minorand further delicate display. Reminiscences of the last movement of thesymphony lead to other territory, now the final movement of the FifthSymphony, but it is to A minor and the second movement of the SeventhSymphony that the Fantasy finally returns.

Thalberg's Nocturne in E major, Opus 28

dates from a similar period. This, no doubt, was the kind of music to which theLondon critic James William Davison took such strong exception, in anextravagantly alliterative review of 1842, referring to Thalberg's Andantes as'pitifully puling and positively paralytic... wishy-washy, wallowing andwarm-waterish'. In fact the Nocturne is of particular interest as anexample of the form by a contemporary of Chopin, a composer that Davison withsimilar ineptitude described as 'a morbidly sentimental flea'.

The Canzonette italienne, Opus 36, No.5is also a work of the later 1830s. It starts with a flourish, before thelyrical melody emerges, with its gently lilting accompaniment and subsequentelaboration.

Un Soupir, Melodie variee offersa melody of some charm, a musical sigh, as its title proclaims. This materialis lyrically developed, without recourse to unnecessary display, an appealingpostscript to music of more oven brilliance.

Keith Anderson

Francesco Nicolosi

Francesco Nicolosi was born in Catania in1954 and studied first at the Liceo Musicale Vincenzo Bellini in his nativecity, taking lessons from Giov
Item number 8553701
Barcode 730099470124
Release date 02/01/2000
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Artists Nicolosi, Francesco
Nicolosi, Francesco
Composers Thalberg, Sigismond
Thalberg, Sigismond
Conductors Mogrelia, Andrew
Mogrelia, Andrew
Orchestras Razumovsky Symphony Orchestra
Razumovsky Symphony Orchestra
Disc: 1
Un Soupir, Melodie Variee pour piano
1 Allegro moderato
2 Adagio
3 Rondo: Allegro
4 Grande Fantaisie pour le piano sur la 7 Symphonie
5 Nocturne, Op 28
6 Canzonette Italienne, Op. 36, No. 5
7 Un Soupir, Melodie Variee pour piano
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