DeGaetano: Piano Concerto No. 1 (CD review)

Also, Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 1; DVD “Journey of Passion.” Robert DeGaetano; John YaffĂ©, Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra. Navona Records NV5929 (2-disc set).

American composer and concert pianist Robert DeGaetano apparently keeps a low profile. Since his stage debut in the mid Seventies, he's made only a handful of recordings. One cannot count this against his piano playing, however, because he is quite gifted, at least as evidenced by the virtuosic manner in which he performs the two works on this disc.

The first movement of DeGaetano's Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 3 starts out with all the frills of a late Romantic piece and then turns more rambunctious early on. It offers a little something for everyone, as if DeGaetano couldn't quite make up his mind if he wanted to go for the pure melodies and harmonies of the nineteenth century or the dissonance of the mid twentieth century. So we hear a bit of both worlds, along with a solid forward momentum and rhythmic drive. Then, along in the midst of the piece we hear some lush Hollywood tunes emerge, and you'd think it was the 1940's all over again. While it's certainly fun, ending in a blaze of glory, it's kind of a hodgepodge of fun, so one has to prepare for it.

Next we get a second movement entirely different, made up almost entirely of percussive effects, very playful, with the piano's entrance so late we wonder if it's ever going to show up at all. Nevertheless, it's a fascinating passage. Mr. DeGaetano says his music will often sound atonal, but that's "only because there are so many tonal passages being played together, each offering their own information. It's these varied resonances that interest me because they correspond to our contemporary world." Fair enough.

The third movement Adagio takes us back into the world of the nineteenth century, very soft and dreamy and atmospheric. In the accompanying documentary, he says it represents a striving for strong personal relationships. After that, we get a finale (yes, it's a four-movement concerto) of overt passion and power that seems borrowed from Charles Ives in its hinted musical references and, again, eccentric rhythmic thrust. The whole work makes a fascinating contrast with the coupled Chopin piano concerto, which leaves no doubt where it's coming from.

Frederic Chopin (1810-1849) wrote his Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11 when he was only nineteen years old, yet it has become one of the staples of the basic classical repertoire. Some critics have argued that it isn't much of a concerto at all, that the piano is so dominant, it is simply another solo piano piece with some reluctant orchestral accompaniment thrown in. That hasn't hurt its popularity, though, and you'll find recordings of it by practically every major pianist in the world.

DeGaetano's way with it is more vigorous than most, with Maestro John Yaffé and his Moravian Philharmonic players going along full bore. DeGaetano makes a grand statement, in any case, and the entire affair sounds less sentimentalized (ironically, less Romanticized) than most accounts. It's a refreshingly personal, robust interpretation of a familiar piece of music.

Producer Vit Muzik and engineer Zdenek Slavotinek recorded the music at Reduta Hall, Olomouc, Czech Republic in September 2012. The sound is quite burly and fairly close. The piano appears well embedded within the orchestral context and spread somewhat wide across the stage. The midrange is a bit veiled, although detailing is still adequate, and the lower treble can be a tad forward. The dynamics, especially those of the piano, come through well enough, so the overall effect is somewhat pop oriented and should complement most mid-fi systems nicely. Audiophiles might want something a tad more transparent, with greater air, space, and orchestral depth, but that's another story.

The set also includes a DVD containing the making-of documentary “Journey of Passion.” It’s just over sixteen minutes long, and DeGaetano’s narration provides some reflections on his Piano Concerto and his recording of it, among other things.

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa