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PIATTI 12 Caprices for Solo Cello, op. 25  —  Carmine Miranda (vc)  —  NAVONA 5972 (40:50)

 

For those who may be only vaguely familiar, or not at all, with the famous 19th-century Italian virtuoso cellist, Carlo Alfredo Piatti, (1822–1901), it may not be too far a stretch to say that he was to the cello what Paganini had been to the violin. Of course, there were other brilliant cellists of the day as well—notably, Carl Davidov (1838–1889), David Popper (1843–1913), Wilhelm Fitzenhagen (1848–1890), Emanuel Moór (1865–1931), and Julius Klengel (1859–1933)—all of whom expanded the cello literature and advanced cello playing techniques. But it was Piatti who produced a set of caprices for solo cello that exploits many of the same self-esteem shattering challenges posed by Paganini’s solo violin caprices.

 

According to Dr. Lev. Ginsburg at celloheaven.com, “The virtuoso cello techniques found in Piatti’s works are of special historical interest, as they provide further evidence of his great performing mastery.” Among the techniques explored in Piatti’s caprices are rapid alternations between sustained legato bowing and sudden staccato strokes; wide-ranging use of double stops, up to and including stretches of tenths; string-crossing leaps and arpeggios, in the latter, often calling for flying spiccato and ricochet bowing; harmonics, both natural and artificial; and passages involving “self-accompaniment,” in which a melodic line played on a higher string is accompanied by a sustained note on an adjacent lower string.

 

Ginsburg gives further details on individual caprices, noting that No. 3 provides an example of mobile double stopping technique in the thumb position; No. 1, bariolage at the tip of the bow; No. 5, “jumping" stroke;” Nos. 5, 9, 10, and 12, various spiccato and staccato strokes; No. 6, polyphonic devices (the above-mentioned “self-accompaniment”); and No. 12, artificial harmonics.

 

In Fanfare 36:5, I gave an enthusiastic recommendation to cellist Carmine Miranda’s Bach solo cello suites on Centaur, noting a certain affinity between his way with the music and that of Pablo Casals. I attributed much of the beauty of Miranda’s tone to the dexterity and finesse of his bowing, something which stands him in good stead in these Piatti caprices, which demand as much, if not more, bow-arm control and technique, as mastery of left-hand fingering, shifting, and stretching. Coordination between the two is, of course, paramount, and Miranda gives evidence throughout these technically exhaustive and exhausting exercises.

 

If Piatti’s melodic invention is not as inspired as Paganini’s, one can’t blame Miranda for that. He makes as much music of the caprices as possible, while facing their frightful difficulties with fearless bravado.

This is by no means a first recording of these works. ArkivMusic lists four others, only one of which I’m familiar with, cellist Soo Bae’s recording for Naxos. Make no mistake, she is very good, but in almost every caprice with an Allegro or Allegretto marking, she is slower and more cautious than Miranda. It’s mainly in the numbers marked Andante, Moderato, and Adagio that Miranda is slower, attempting, as stated above, to lend a degree of lyrical expressivity to Piatti’s limited melodic inspiration. Yet even with Miranda’s slower tempos in the slow and moderately paced pieces, which you would expect to offset and even out Soo Bae’s slower tempos in the faster paced pieces, her overall timing for the caprices, 43:50, is still slower than Miranda’s, 40:50, by a full three minutes.

 

After such a grueling workout, it may be cruel to criticize Miranda for not offering us something in the way of filler; Bae does, and so do Andrea Noferini, Erling Blöndal Bengtsson, and Wenn-Sinn Yang in their respective recordings for Tactus, Danacord, and Arts Music. But after you’ve listened to Miranda play these caprices, you may find yourself as spent and ready to drop as he probably was.

These are incredible performances of works that should interest every cellist and that should be in the library of anyone who appreciates the cello and hearing it played by a consummate master like Carmine Miranda.

-Jerry Dubins 

 

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Carlo Alfredo Piatti (1822-1901) originally began to study violin with his father, but soon switched to cello and lessons from his great uncle, renowned cellist Gaetano Zanetti. After two years of study, he was playing in a local theater orchestra. He then attended the Milan Conservatory and made his solo concert debut at the age of 15. While touring to Hungary with his father, he became ill and had to sell his cello to pay medical bills. As a result, when invited to play for Franz Liszt, he had to borrow an instrument. Liszt was greatly impressed with his playing and gave him a fine cello with which he could concertize. He composed the 12 Caprices in 1875, at the height of his fame. Piatti’s work is intended to give the cellist a complete workout similar to that given the violinist by Paganini’s 24 Solo Violin Caprices.

 

Cellist Carmine Miranda plays Piatti’s Caprices with awesome virtuosity. He is fast becoming known for his ability to combine virtuosity with intense, well-thought-out interpretation. At the bottom of his record inset is a note stating that although the recording was made in a studio, he did not edit any of the works he plays. Bravo for that! Miranda believes that the Piatti Caprices belong on the concert stage because they are considerably more than exercises, and he is one of several artists who has recorded them recently. Canadian-Korean cellist Soo Bae recorded the caprices in 2011 for Naxos, and she plays most of them more slowly and with less energy than Miranda. Principal cellist of the Rome Opera Orchestra Andrea Noferini also plays them rather slowly compared to Miranda. It will be interesting to hear the new recording that Vadim Pavlov has made for Hungaroton, but I would be surprised if anyone can play faster and with more intensity than Miranda.

 

Miranda takes each caprice as a separate work to be interpreted as a whole. The First is a nostalgic look at shimmering tone, fast but even up and down the scale. The Second is a church chorale that evolves into a waltz, which makes it good concert choice. The moderately fast Third is a melodic and charming textured exploration of the instrument’s higher range, while the Fourth, with its self-accompaniment, tells us a rhythmic folk tale of dancing at a country fair. The equally self-accompanied Fifth reminds the listener of Bach’s music with its exacting requirements, while the Sixth is a serene Adagio. The Seventh shows the sparkling influence of the guitar, and the Eighth fascinates us with a folkloric march. The 10th is more violinistic in its outlook as it allows the cellist a wide expanse of possibilities for a fast romp. The 11th Caprice is an Italianate melody that shows the ability of the player to use every part of his instrument and the grand finale, the 12th Caprice, ends the tour de force with an appropriately beautiful melody. The sound of the cello on this CD is clear and pristine. I enjoyed this disc a great deal and I think many readers will love it as well.

-Maria Nockin

 

These articles originally appeared in Fanfare Magazine 2014.

FANFARE MAGAZINE