The Classical Reviewer

An attractive recent release from Divine Art Recordings entitled The Operatic Pianist features pianist Andrew Wright. He was born in Dundee, Scotland, and had his first piano lessons at the age of seven. Further study followed with William Stevenson, Kenneth van Barthold and Nicholas Pope.

He has a particular interest in semi-forgotten composers of the Romantic era and has made a detailed study of 19th century piano transcriptions, an interest that is shown by this new disc. The arrangements and transcriptions included here are by Martucci, Thalberg, Liszt and Andrew Wright himself.

The Italian composer conductor, Giuseppe Martucci (1856-1909), has received a higher profile in recent years following many recordings of his works. The fact that he did not write operas tended to add to his relative neglect over the years. Here, however, we have his take on Italy’s greatest operatic composer, Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). His Concert Fantasy on Verdi’s La Forza del destino receives its first commercial recording here. Full of decorations and rippling scales that weave around Verdi’s themes, it is finely played by Andrew Wright, who reveals it to be a very attractive piece in its own right, full of unexpected variations.

Sigismund Thalberg (1812-1871) is a name that many will know but few will have heard, except perhaps his Piano Concerto in F minor, op.5. Here we have his transcription of Vincenzo Bellini’s (1801-1835) A te, o cara from I Puritani which receives a lovely, gently flowing performance, subtly rising and falling throughout its duration with some fine decoration.

Wright then gives us his own arrangement of Bellini in his Fantasy on Bellini’s La Sonnambula, a piece that has a flamboyant, Lisztian opening before moving to a calmer, flowing presentation of the theme. Again there are fine decorations in this attractive fantasy. Part way through there is a rollicking theme that is given a terrific performance with some terrific right hand scales and decorations. Quite a formidable piece, formidable playing.

Franz Liszt (1811-1886), perhaps the finest arranger of other composer’s works is represented by two pieces, firstly his transcription of Richard Wagner’s (1813-1883) Recitative and Romance: O, du mein holder Abendstern from Tannhauser. It opens full of mystery before the main theme appears in this remarkably restrained arrangement. Where the music does open out, Wright displays great sensitivity in this lovely performance.

Perhaps the most well-known of Liszt’s Wagner arrangements is his transcription of Isolde’s Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde. This is not an easy work to pull off, with Liszt’s difficult approximations of orchestral sounds. Wright deftly takes the music from its quiet, tentative opening through the slowly increasing drama and passion to its calm conclusion. Beautifully done.

For his own tribute to Thalberg, Thalbergiana, Andrew Wright takes the closing theme from Thalberg’s Don Pasquale Fantasy. It moves from a gently rocking theme, through some pretty virtuosic passages with Wright not sparing himself in this terrific piece.

Wright brings more Thalberg with his Concert Fantasy on Verdi’s La Traviata where he brilliantly follows all the little details of the various themes. Thalberg dovetails Verdi’s themes together so well, some of which are subjected to attractive right hand decorations. Again there is writing of some virtuosity to which Wright responds magnificently – particularly towards the end.

Calm is restored with another Thalberg transcription, this time of Bellini’s Casta diva from Norma where Bellini’s famous melody is simply, yet beautifully presented. Wright shapes the melody and all its subtle harmonies so well.

This fine recital concludes with Wright’s own Concert Fantasy on Giacomo Meyerbeer’s (1791-1864) Robert le Diable. There is a spectacular opening before continuing with a lively, robust manner in this piece which contains many attractive themes nicely juxtaposed. There are more extremely taxing passages for the pianist, which Wright throws off with panache and abandon.

This is a disc to sit back and enjoy whilst marvelling at the many moments of virtuosity. It is nicely recorded at Reid Hall, Edinburgh, Scotland and has excellent booklet notes by Andrew Wright.

—Bruce Reader