Niccolò Castiglioni

Auf der Suche nach einem frischen wind [flute, soprano & piano]
Come io passo l’estate [piano]
Dickinson Lieder [soprano & piano]
Dulce Refrigerium (Sechs Geistliche Lieder) [piano]
Gymel [flute & piano]
HE [piano]
Romanzetta [flute]
Sonatina (1st movement) [piano]

Sarah Nicolls (piano)

Sarah Leonard (soprano)

Richard Craig (flute)

Reviewed by: William Yeoman

Reviewed: 23 June, 2005
Venue: Italian Cultural Institute, London

For this concert of Niccolò Castiglioni’s music an enthusiastic crowd braved hot, stifling conditions to fill two rooms (the larger one housing a Fazioli piano and the majority of the audience, the smaller, adjoining room accommodating the overflow) of the Italian Cultural Institute in Belgrave Square, London. And I’m sure most of them thought it was worth it, the quality of the performances being matched by the fine wines served afterwards.

Niccolò Castiglioni (1932–1996) was a virtuoso pianist and composer, favouring serial techniques while never entirely abandoning diatonic music and developing a flexible, individual language capable of highly expressive gestures and witty asides.

The recital itself was given to launch of Sarah Nicolls’s new CD of Castiglioni’s solo piano music, and it was this music which dominated the evening. The programme began with Come io passo l’estate (How I spent my Summer), a set of largely diatonic and highly descriptive miniatures for solo piano. The dominant mood, both of the pieces and the playing, was one of whimsy, occasionally punctuated by virtuosic (The little fountain of Ganna – a nod to Liszt) and starkly atmospheric (Ice on the Rosengarten) intrusions.

Nicolls was then joined by Scottish flautist Richard Craig for Gymel, in which an often-frenzied flute part grows out of richly resonating chords. The performers seized upon the wide range of expression afforded by this work with gusto, raising the temperature to such a degree that the windows had to be opened for a while before Sarah Leonard swapped places with Craig to sing “Dickinson Lieder”, six settings of poems by Emily Dickinson. The poems are wonderful, but the relentlessly high tessitura and wide intervals of the music seem to work against them, despite the apposite strangeness of the more reflective passages. To her credit, Leonard never ‘screeched’ the (often extremely) high notes, softening their impact with a beautifully placed, sometimes floating tone.

Following Romanzetta, a spiky, Sequenza-like three movement work for solo flute (which Craig performed with startling dexterity seasoned by a little humour) came two works for piano. The first movement from Castiglioni’s 1984 Sonatina features a flowing fabric impaled by cadential bursts; HE is a wonderful, toccata-like work reminding of Boulez’s early piano pieces. Both works were performed with a attractive wild energy and largely percussive tone (enhanced by the clean edges of the Fazioli’s timbre). Definitely the high point of the evening.

“Auf der Suche nach einem frischen wind” (for all three performers), ended the programme. Much of what I said about the Dickinson Lieder applies here – except for the quality of the text, despite its good intentions. This, like all of the performances, could not be faulted.

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