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September 12, 2012

On the Record: Complete solo piano music by Riccardo Malipiero

The classical recording business, which has had more postmortems than Howard Stassen (that'll give you younger folks something to Google), still keeps on ticking.

There is certainly not the same volume of yore, but that also means that there aren't quite as many additions to the overstuffed bins of Beethoven Fifth CDs.

I am constantly surprised by the esoteric fare that now pops up on disc, from obscure baroque gems right on through cutting-edge works where the ink on the scores is barely dry.

One recent item that caught my attention: The first recording of the complete solo piano music by Italian composer Riccardo Malipiero, performed by Jose Raul Lopez on a Toccata Classics release. Talk about off the beaten path.

The name Malipiero is not likely to register with many folks today, at least on these shores. Even people open to the more complex side of 20th-century music may not have encountered his work.

(His uncle, Gian Francesco Malipiero, left a larger mark as a composer, but is not really any better known to the average concertgoer or record buyer.)

With Riccardo Malipiero (1914-2003), we're talking about an ...

unapologetic modernist. Much of his work employs the 12-tone method pioneered by Arnold Schoenberg and revered in some corners, reviled in others. Malipiero's embrace of that system was full-fledged, and, judging by his piano music, he achieved considerable expressive power in doing so.

No use pretending that Malipiero is easy listening, even in the pre-12-tone items. But Lopez makes the music quite approachable.

The pianist's grasp of the scores is sure, his articulation crystalline -- note the wild dash through the wildest contrapuntal flurries in Le rondini di Alessandro. The pianist's phrasing has plenty an expressive nuance, too, nowhere more so than in the inward-looking finale to the Diario secondo from 1985.

With movements that are often less than a minute (one of the 14 Variazioni lasts all of 10 seconds), Malipiero's keyboard works are filled with dashes of color; he's like a painter flicking a brush or making a swift swirl on a canvas. Lopez seems to thrive on these extraordinary little gestures, but he never loses sight of the big picture, the structure holding the individual components together.

The pianist also provides very detailed notes in the CD booklet that should help the adventurous listener along on this journey through a world of intricate ideas and fascinating sounds.

Posted by Tim Smith at 11:23 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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