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Sgambati: Sinfonia Festiva (Ouverture De Fete); Piano Concer

Sgambati: Sinfonia Festiva (Ouverture De Fete); Piano Concer

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Between 1879 and 1880, as he approached his 40th birthday, Giovanni Sgambati completed his Piano Concerto in G minor, a work on which he had been working for about two years. It was a significant moment for Italian instrumental music: it was, in fact, the first Romantic piano concerto by a composer from the country that had given the world both the instrument, invented by Cristofori almost two centuries earlier, and the genre itself.

The Piano Concerto displays an assured compositional hand. It constitutes not only a new beginning for Italian piano music but also a synthesis of the possibilities offered by the genre. An extremely difficult work to play, it is not immediately accessible on a first hearing, given the density of its material, but reveals more about Sgambati’s inventiveness and technical mastery every time you listen to it.

The Sinfonia festiva (Ouverture de fête) was composed in 1878 or 1879, making it contemporaneous with the Piano Concerto and proof of Sgambati’s growing dedication to orchestral music. It is a short but mature work, confidently written, clearly inspired by the dance-like character of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. Three main themes, the first lean and lively, the second more lyrical, the third impudent and leaping, are organized according to the principle of sonata form, with a development section in which the initial motif pops up time and again, wandering between tonalities, sometimes giving the impression of formal freedom, sometimes of obeying rondo form.


A pupil of Liszt, Giovanni Sgambati (1841-1914) stood out among 19th-century Italian pianists for his advocacy of the German school and classical models. His massive three-movement Piano Concerto in G minor (1880) might be described as a hybrid that fuses the similarly scaled Brahms D minor concerto with piano writing marked by Lisztian bravura.

Imagine Liszt reworking the echt-Hungarian finale of Brahms’ Violin Concerto for piano on his own stylistic terms, and you’ll get an idea of what Sgambati’s third movement sounds like. Similarly, the grandiose first movement owes much of its existence to the arpeggiated flourishes in Beethoven’s Emperor concerto first movement and motives from Liszt’s Hungarian Fantasy.

Recorded live in 2013, the (late) pianist Massimiliano Damerini handled the daunting piano part with brilliance and confidence. He positively opens up and thrives in front of an audience.

Both conductor and orchestra make a splendid case for the delightful Sinfonia festiva (‘Ouverture de fête’), presented in its world premiere recording here.

  -- (Jed Distler)

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  • Release Specifications

    • Number of Discs: 1
    • Release Date:
    • Label: Naxos Regular CD
    • UPC/Barcode: 747313327270
    • Item Number: 8573272