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Catalog November, 2003

Piano Sonatas in C major Op. 47; D-flat major Op. 99;
& E-flat major Op. 135
Antonio Pompa-Baldi (piano)
Centaur- 2648(CD)


JOSEF RHEINBERGER (1839-1901): Piano Sonatas No. 1 in C "Symphonic", Op. 47, No. 2 in D Flat, Op. 99, No. 3 in E Flat "Romantic", Op. 135. Previously, Rheinberger's piano and organ sonatas have only been available on the no-longer-attainable Prezioso label, so that this rather miraculous release from Centaur in New Orleans will, we hope, slake the thirst of collectors from around the world. Pompa-Baldi is not only a Silver Medalist of the 2001 Van Cliburn Competition, but, he actually chose Rheinberger to record! Needless to say, he copes with all of the composer's technical requirements and proves to be as receptive to the emotional aspects of the composer's muse as to the virtuosic. Let's hope that this is only a first volume!

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Reviews of Musical Events
on the Monterey Peninsula

Pianist Antonio Pompa-Baldi
By Lyn Bronson

Well, he didn't leap tall buildings in a single bound, and he didn't stop any speeding bullets, but he did just about everything else. I am talking about Van Cliburn silver medalist Antonio Pompa-Baldi who stepped out on stage at Le Petit Trianon in San Jose to play a piano recital for the Steinway Society of the San Francisco Bay Area and blew us away with his musical sensitivity and his ultra controlled virtuosity.

Virtuosity has come to be a dirty word in some quarters and it sometimes conjures up an image of a pianist flailing away and showing off how fast and loud he can play. Pompa-Baldi's virtuosity is a horse of a different color. To borrow the words of our President, "make no mistake about it," Pompa-Baldi can play as fast and loud as anyone else, but never did we hear extreme speed or loudness that didn't serve an intelligent musical purpose.

In the opening work, the Mozart Sonata in F Major, K.332, we heard the most exquisitely refined, scaled down and stylistic playing you could ever hope to hear in a Mozart Sonata. There was no precious "porcelain doll" approach here, but rather a full blooded and expressive performance that relished every nuance and every turn of phrase. The slow movement contained many colors in its infinite variety of dynamics that made it a subtle (it had the subtlety of a Chopin Nocturne) and moving experience. The last movement, Allegro assai, was played Prestissimo, which initially sounded like a disstortion and almost like one of the faster Scarlatti sonatas. However, the elegance and refinement of the passagework was so authoritative that after the initial shock wore off, the finale at this fleet tempo was entirely convincing. Mozart always said that his passages "should flow like oil" and they certainly did here (low viscosity oil, of course).

After the Mozart came a riveting performance of the Chopin B-flat Minor Sonata. It had all the power and expressive emotion you would expect from an artist of Pompa-Baldi's stature, but there was much more. The "funeral march" slow movement had a lovely sustained quality and powerful tension that was temporarily relieved by the truly lovely middle section in D-flat major where we heard exquisitely limpid cantabile playing. This movement was mesmerizing. The "Wind over the Graves" last movement was a whisper of undulating notes (with occasional fragments of melodic motives appearinga and disappearing) that wreaked its own brand of powerful magic.

After intermission we heard a work composed for the Eleventh Van Cliburn Piano Competition, "Three Impromptus" by Lowell Liebermann. Pompa-Baldi won a special award at the Van Cliburn Competition for his performance of this work, and it was easy to see why. Delicate pianissimos and massive sonorities exist side by side in this powerful work, but the overriding effect was always musical, not simply pianistic.

Another one of his Van Cliburn repertoire works also appearing on the program was Poulenc's Caprice italien which after a bombastic introduction has some beguiling melodies in which Pompa-Baldi spun some more tonal magic.

Ending the program was the Rachmaninoff Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor, Op. 36. The first movement wasa a powerful statement of post romantic passion tempered with fin de sičcle Russian angst. Never have I heard before such a lovely drawn out pianissimo ending to this movement. It was a lovely setup to the beautiful slow movement, which really tore at the heartstrings. The last movement was a powerful romp to its climax that brought the audience to its feet for a rousing standing ovation.

Mr. Pompa-Baldi played two encores for us. The first was Moszkowski's Etude in F Major that was incredibly fast, but oh so quiet and incredibly clear (it was better than Horowitz's recorded performance), and the second was "June - Barcarolle" from Tchaikowsky's "The Seasons." You will never hear this piece played more lovingly.

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