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Napoli / Antonio Pompa-Baldi

Release Date: 09/21/2018
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30086
Composer:  Roberto Piana Performer:  Antonio Pompa-Baldi

In all of these Neapolitan songs I found an immense potential and an evocative power that I could use in many different combinations. Intense melodies, rich harmonies, on which I could improvise producing ever different results, ever changing outlooks. Hence the title Improvisations, a word that well describes my modus operandi. - Roberto Piana

R E V I E W S:

Napoli is a 2018 release of 20 keyboard arrangements of Neapolitan songs, lavishly embellished by pianist/composer Roberto Piana and recorded for the Steinway & Sons label by Antonio Pompa-Baldi. To be clear, the word "improvisations" mentioned in the album title is misleading, for these are actually fully composed pieces in the style of
Read more impromptus that seem spontaneous because of Piana's use of dazzling runs and arpeggios, which give the music its color, and Pompa-Baldi's effortless virtuosity, which gives the performances their flair. Non-Italian listeners will appreciate such fun tracks as the jaunty Funiculí Funiculá, the combination of Ernesto Curtis' Torna a Surriento with Domenico Scarlatti's Sonata in B minor, K. 27, and the closing track, Napoli, with its winking reference to the universally known Italian song Santa Lucia. A lively spirit of invention comes across in the sparkling settings and the flamboyant playing, which can be sampled in the characteristic 'A Vucchella, and one can easily connect these versions to the passionate vocal tradition of Naples in the age of Enrico Caruso. Steinway & Sons provides clean sound that captures all the details while preserving the piano's warmth.

-- AllMusic Guide

Canzona Napaletana is the term for composed Neapolitan popular music. This genre became a staple of Italian culture in the 1830’s. Songs like “O Sole Mio” and Funiculi Funicular” were conceived in an annual songwriting competition. Opera singers like Enrico Caruso, Mario Lanza, Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo have re-introduced these songs to world-wide audiences. Modern vocalists, including Mario Merola, Roberto Murolo, Renato Carsone and Sergio Bruni represent modern-era Neapolitan singers. Italian pianist Antonio Pompa-Baldi has released an album of Neapolitan songs on the prestigious Steinway & Sons label. Napoli is a unique collection of re-invented improvisations by Roberto Piana.

Listeners will certainly recognize the jaunty, amenable “Funiculi Funicular”. Many classical composers including Richard Strauss and Nikolai Rimsky-Rimsky-Korsakov have incorporated this melody into their compositions. It has been covered by the likes of Connie Francis, Pavarotti. Andrea Bocelli and even The Grateful Dead. Here after an improvisational “heavy’ intro, Pompa-Baldi maintains the carefree flow with rhythm and precision. On “Serenatella” he manages the balance between structure and free expression, emboldened by the arrangements. in a classical interpretation, “Il Cardillo” has a winsome quality and deliberate tempo, with countering left and right hand runs. “Marechiare’ mixes tempos with aggressive bass hand and grandiose flourishes. There is a glowing slower part with moodiness and punctuation. The hushed, plaintive melody of “Serenata Medioevale” is expressed with harmonic delicacy with arpeggio and deft technique. In contrast, “La Rosa” has a playful vibe aided by a shifting 3/4 time signature.

Pompa-Baldi’s grasp of melodic articulation shines on the ageless “Era de Maggio”. The inherent emotional context makes it evident why this is a favorite among opera singers. The pianist’s shifts easily from dramatic intonation to sentiment. In the spirit of salon music of the 19th century, “Il Segreto” is performed with heartfelt resonance and virtuosic detail. “Pastorella’ elicits harmony and a slight dissonance in a brisk 2:12. There is a noticeable change of pace on “La Fiera de Mast’Andrea”. Pompa-Baldi glides through this celebrated folk tarantessa from 1845. The accessible jubilance is captured with vitality. “A Vuchella” (covered by many opera singers, most notably Pavarotti) is exquisite with restrained grandeur and ruminative shading. With a keen ear for melancholy, “Cannetella” has some complex chords and notation.

Pompa-Baldi never strays from the core essence of a song. “Te Voglio Bene Assaje” is straightforward with graceful sincerity.

Tackling an iconic song and transforming it is no easy task. but that is what happens with “Scarlattian Improvisation On Torna a Sorrento”. A.P.B. combines the anguished plea of Ernesto de Curtis’ “Back To Sorrento” with Domenico’s Scarlatti’s “Sonata K27/L449”. The “overexposure” of this song in popular music gives way to an edgy, fresh approach. This “organized” improvisational dynamic permeates the album with tunes like “I”te Vurrie Vasa”, “Raziella” and “Maria Mari” showcasing adroit tempos and emphatic notation. In a surprising finale, the title track interprets “Santa Lucia” with jazzy lyricism. At 6:45, the pianist expands his instrumental creativity and ferocity. It never gets boring.

-- Robbie Gerson, Audiophile Audition Read less