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CD Review

Sigismund Thalberg

Virtuoso Piano Music

  • Fantasie on Rossini's "Moses", Op. 33
  • 12 Etudes, Op. 26
  • Fantasie on Rossini's "La Donna del Lago", Op. 40
Stefan Irmer, piano
Dabringhaus & Grimm MDG6181551-2 68m DDD
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This is truly a humdinger of a disc and a marvelous advert for Thalberg's consummate art. Born in 1812 near Geneva, the young Sigismund soon displayed his precocious talents, and although he grew up amidst an unstable relationship (he was the illegitimate son of Baroness Wetzler and Prince Franz Josef von Dietrichstein), he was given an excellent education which served him pretty well later on.

By the time he embarked on his artistic career in 1835, he was already famous for his extremely good looks and cultivated appearance. His honest integrity also enhanced his reputation and contributed hugely to the image of the perfect gentleman pianist. Although his great rival Franz Liszt tried to belittle his compositions, during later years he relented, and his harsh judgment was replaced by words of praise.

Thalberg's works are all associated with the piano, and all throughout his he only played his own compositions in public. Like Liszt he was regarded as a legend, but unlike other virtuosos, he performed without any visible exertion, and showy antics were never part of his concerts. In many of his pieces he was able to produce the perfect acoustic illusion of more than two playing hands, and his soft touch is a feature in many of his works.

The Rossini fantasies are a veritable "tour-de-force", dazzling in their virtuosity and masterly in their development of the themes and relative dynamics. The 12 Etudes are a sort of compendium, full of melodic invention and romantic feeling that produce an immediate effect on the listeners.

Stefan Irmer has already regaled us with the complete piano works by Rossini – the "Sins of Old Age" on 8 CDs also for MD&G and this new issue is no less stunning. His vertiginous pianism is wholly arresting and his nimble-fingered hands are able to project all of Thalberg's expressive warmth. Thalberg's own memorable essay and exemplary sound complete an irresistible disc which should not be missed.

Copyright © 2009, Gerald Fenech