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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

On his 2013 recording, The Rascal and the Sparrow — Poulenc meets Piaf, pianist Antonio Pompa-Baldi delighted listeners with his captivating interpretations of music from two stalwarts of the 20th-century French chanson. On his latest CD, the pianist looks to the music of his native Italy for inspiration — specifically the emotionally charged Neapolitan song.

Released on the Steinway label in September, Napoli is 73 minutes of listening pleasure. The album is also a follow-up to the 2013 collaboration between Pompa-Baldi and composer and pianist Roberto Piana, a fellow Italian whose magical improvisations turn these songs into shining gems.

In his liner notes, Piana says that with so many popular songs to choose from, “it was inevitable to leave out some favorites.” Spoiler alert, the disc does not include O sole mio. However it does begin with an ear-catching performance of Funiculi funicula, which Pompa-Baldi plays brilliantly.

Many of Piana’s improvisations retain the Salon Romance style, such as Te voglio bene assaje and Serenata medioevale, both of which the pianist performs with tenderness. However, others have a virtuosic tinge, like the improvisation on Serentella. Here, Pompa-Baldi discreetly shows off his impressive technique while maintaining the song’s simple charm. Of the twenty tracks, a standout is Pompa-Baldi’s beautifully phrased interpretation of Il cardillo — a performance certain to melt your heart.

Napoli concludes with the aptly title “Napoli.” Here Piana inventively weaves together the lesser-known songs Taggio ditto, M’allicordo, and Lo ninno mio, a combination which Pompa-Baldi plays with grace and Italian passion.

If you are already a lover of Neapolitan song, this is a must have for your collection. If you’re not familiar with the style, this makes for a wonderful introduction.

-- Mike Telin, Cleveland Classical

The greatest of the classic Neapolitan songs are as mother’s milk to high-octane tenors. You surely know some of them — Marechiare, Il cardillo, Funiculì funiculà — and if you don’t, you can be sure your Italian-American friends do. The composer and pianist Roberto Piana has created 20 pieces he calls “Improvisations” based on these melodies — perhaps better described as elaborate, notated compositions in the tradition of what were called “concert paraphrases” in the pianistic golden age of the late-19th and early-20th centuries. Although he hails from the island of Sardinia, about 250 miles due west of Naples, and Antonio Pompa-Baldi, who performs them here, comes from Foggia, 70 miles to the northeast, both of them approach this material with deep affection. Piana knows how to craft virtuoso writing that draws maximum effect from the piano, and Pompa-Baldi has the chops and musical sensitivity to make every track irresistible. Quite a few pieces exude the gracious charm of the palm court, but some go in unanticipated directions: what sounds like plucked-string harmonics at the end of Era di maggio, for example, or the somber ruminations of a passacaglia in Lo marenaro. It’s hard to play favorites, but Best in Show may go to a clever take on Torna a Surriento in the style of a sonata by Domenico Scarlatti, a Neapolitan of an earlier age.

-- James M. Keller, Pasatiempo

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