DECCA – Universal 2011
In a field that provides many opportunities for comparison, Restani’s performances stand out as flawless. His great understanding of Brahms’ works is enriched by his personal ideas which, as always, are extremely refined. I particularly liked some details in Op. 9, a rather uncommon piece to be performed in a concert; the “singability” in Op. 21 no. 1, where I am sure Restani was inspired by a legendary performance of Edwin Fischer; the joyful vitality in Op. 21 no. 2, another of Brahms’ lesser known pieces (unjustly so); last but not least, the fluidity and the mechanical precision of the long octave pedal in Op. 24 , where the fugue reaches moments of fervent excitement. It should be mentioned that, in this specific piece, all pianists tend to slightly slow down and (in live performances) to visibly “limp along”. As a bonus, Restani plays one of Brahms‘ etudes, centred on a subject that, in Brahms’ days, already belonged to the Romantic piano tradition. We are referring to Schubert’s Impromptu Op. 90 No. 2 in E♭ major, in which Brahms experiments with an “inversion of roles” between left hand and right hand, anticipating Godowsky’s wicked numbers. It is logical to suppose that this experiment, of uncertain origin, dates back to Brahms’ transcriptions of Weber’s Sonata no.1 (final part) or Bach’s Chaconne.
– CLASSIC VOICE
Paolo Restani explores the full range of Brahms’ piano variations. After the Brahms-Paganini variations, here’s the Brahms-Handel variations, which the musician approaches with the usual virtuoso bravura. The list of Restani’s technical exploits is rather long, ranging from the octaves in Variation no. 4 and Variation no.25 to the steady and vigorous scales in Variation no. 24. Also, Variation no. 14 (broken octaves in the left hand and double sixths in the right hand) and Variation no. 15 (right hand alternating between double thirds and double sixths) are striking.
The performance of the Brahms-Handel Variations is a magnificent example of piano virtuosity and of clarity of sonorities that sparkle like a steel blade. To a much lesser extent, the performance reflects grace and compactness. Restani’s sound is always solid and clear, like a picture with sharply defined outlines.
JOHANNES BRAHMS, ROBERT SCHUMANN
DECCA – Universal 2011
Two absolute masterpieces in the history of piano quintets. Perhaps, Quintet op. 34 is Brahms’ greatest achievement in the realm of chamber music. However, such level of perfection was reached after a rough genesis. Brahms started composing it in 1861, but he had to make many structural changes in order to reach the final version, four years later. It is a rare example of a structural balance that benefits colours and melodic lines. Schumann‘s Quintet op. 44, which was seen as the very first example of Romanticism in chamber music, was born eighteen years earlier than Brahms’ quintet and after a strenuous gestation, just like in Brahms’ case. This composition epitomizes vitality and freshness. The rigorous style of the quartet is combined with Schumann‘s imaginative nature, his creativity and freedom in the process of writing concertante pieces. A milestone in the chamber music repertoire. Its four tempos are supposed to be like an unstoppable journey that continues up to the end of the piece. Towards the end of the piece, the lengthy development of the thematic microcosm reaches its fulfillment. These two critical and challenging compositions are often translated into monumental performances that aspire to become definitive models. This attitude is alien both to the La Scala String Quartet and to Paolo Restani. Their interpretation is stylistically very elegant, engaging and spontaneously vibrant.
– CLASSIC VOICE
Those who saw them in April at La Scala are already aware; those who did not, were waiting for this to happen. Sooner or later, Paolo Restani’s steady and creative piano, which is instilled with the heritage of the great romantic composers, had to meet the La Scala String Quartet, whose strings possess the singability of melodrama and the richness of timbre of the symphonic repertoire. That is what this beautiful and deeply emotional album is about. It is dedicated to Brahms’ sublime Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 34 and to Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E-flat major, Op. 44. Both composers were in their early thirties when, in the first half of the 1860’s, the composer from Hamburg conceived, after some revisions and enhancements, Op. 34 and the composer from Zwickau completed Op. 44 (1842). They were in love with the same woman, Clara Schumann, a formidable pianist, a stern advisor and an inspiring muse. In different ways, they both tried to obtain an unprecedented merger of instruments so as to evoke an orchestral spatiality, which is further highlighted by a piano (especially in Brahms) that is perfectly cohesive.
The interpretation is here representative of chamber music in the noblest sense of the term. The five instrumentalists shape the music with a collective energy and an impressive, enveloping polyphony. They form a single body made of sound, a body that is sometimes frantic or logical, other times mysterious and arcane. Excellently done.
The seven Concerts for piano and orchestra
Brilliant Classics 2009
A superb complete edition in 4 CDs that restores and puts in the foreground a pianist/composer who, back in his days, in the first quarter of the 19th century, was the epitome of perfection. Chopin was proud to be compared to him and there have not been great and more eminent pianists who haven’t drawn inspiration from his elegance, his colours and his touch. Paolo Restani and Marco Guidarini join forces to emphasize the multi-faceted brightness of this maestro of the harpsichord (preceding Chopin), his soul, his Haydnian manners and spiritual elegance.
Paolo Restani’s piano effectively creates this narrative tone. The autheniticity of this music remains untouched thanks to the spontaneity and to the adamantine clarity of the diction. The narrative is free from sentimental pretences or rhetorical artifices that would otherwise make it syrupy. Restani’s ability to combine extraordinary virtuosity with grace of touch is what makes him the perfect interpreter of Field. In the chronicles of his time, Field was described as a pianist with a refined mode of expression, who was eloquent and graceful in the cantabile passages, and with a rock-solid background in piano technique (as stated by the strict piano teacher Friedrich Wieck, Clare Schumann’s father). Last but not least, he was able to create charming colours. The Orchestra Philarmonique de Nice is nicely conducted by Guidarini, who brings out the emotional contrasts within the music without being excessive (for instance, the time lags are very well calibrated). In this way, he avoids highlighting some structural imbalances that are due to Field’s panel technique. An interesting example of Field’s structural peculiarities is precisely the Piano Concerto No. 5, in which the first movement is almost as long as the following two movements put together. What we can deduce from this is that Field considered the Concerto as nothing more than a container to be filled with imaginary subjects, without worrying too much about cohesiveness. After all, even though this approach might seem like a limitation, it shoud be mentioned that the heterogeneous and unpredictable nature of these Concertos enraptured audiences all over Europe. Even the title of this Concerto is interesting: L’incendie par l’Orage (meaning “The fire caused by the storm”). It evokes programmes belonging to a pre-Liszt era. It is a kind of “quiet before the storm”, performed with unflappable composure. It is not a “Beethovenesque” kind of storm but rather an evocation of the catastrophe caused by the storm, in this case a fire. After calm has been restored, we realize that in Field’s eyes, this is just a game, even though a serious one. Usually, the almost cyclothymic changes of atmoshpere lead to a cherished underlying calm. This is the feeling we are left with when we eject the CD from the player, a sense of reconciliation with the world’s oddities.
As this year marks 160 years since Chopin’s death, a new album dedicated to John Field’s works seems befitting. Even though today he is almost exclusively associated with the musical form of nocturne (which he developed long before Chopin popularized it), back in his days, Field was a renowned artist and composer, and many people preferred him to Chopin. Today, there is not even an entry on him in the Gramophone Guide.[…] It is inevitable to compare the album by Brilliant Classics with the set by Classic Chandos, featuring Míceál O’Rurke’s piano and the London Mozart Players Orchestra conducted by Mathias Bamert … I listened to the 4 CDs of the Brilliant Classics set in 4 evenings, without making any comparison. I was pleased with it in all respects: soloist, orchestra, conductor and recording. They definitely shouldn’t be listened to in a single evening. I paid special attention to the Piano Concerto No.2, which, as underlined by Em Mashall, was particulary enjoyed by Field’s contemporaries. Schumann himself described it as “divinely marvellous”.[…] I’m sure that if Schumann listened to the Brilliant Classics CDs his appreciation for the works would be the same. The nocturne in the second movement Poco Adagio, as played here, is particularly beautiful, despite the fact that the musician does purposely not exceed in stirring emotions. Both parts of the Moderato Innocente are exceptionally performed. […].
This set by Brilliant introduces us to some wonderful, unjustly neglected music.
A complete collection of Field’s works is an invaluable item that brings us joy. As far as I know, the only other collection on the market is the one by O’Rurke for the record company Chandos. Putting aside the great value of this release (the wide array of piano works of the early 1800’s is a yet-to-be-discovered area and Field’s name is mainly known to Chopin connoisseurs), what is really impressive about this album is Restani’s “change of register” when transitioning from Brahms’ “steely” piano style into Field’s extremely gentle, refined and brilliant style. The concertos provide the most enjoyable listening experience and within a few minutes listeners will find themselves in Clementi’s London or in Saint Petersburg in the years 1810-1820, a time when Field was able to meet personalities such as Hummel, Steibelt, Glinka, Pushkin and Mickiewicz.
– CLASSIC VOICE
The Irish pianist John Field is best known as being the inventor of the nocturne. Later on, this musical composition was brought to splendour by Chopin. Field was a brilliant experimenter all round. His style freely encapsulates classical elements, the new features of the Sturm und Drang movement, folk tunes of Celtic heritage, dances of different origins, references to the opera and traces of orientalism. The diversity of Field’s world is wonderfully expressed by Marco Guidarini and the Orchestra Philarmonique de Nice. Soloist Paolo Restani deserves special praise for his ability to find the perfect balance between transcendental virtuosity and elegant softness of sounds.
– MILANO FINANZA
I do remember very well when a young Paolo Restani performed Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in Milan in 1984. I also recall when, not long after, in the same city, he performed a couple of recitals with clear virtuoso traits. Since then, Restani has built a successful career shaped by eminent collaborations with Muti, which have led up to the assignment of the complete works of Brahms, for the record company Decca. In the Variations-Paganini, we can admire the technical mastery of the 43-year-old pianist and the great quality of a sound that has been somewhat too much processed by the record company professionals. In my opinion, the most interesting element of the album are Brahms’ challenging five studies based on the original works of Bach, Weber and Chopin. These are very rarely performed because of how challenging and complicated they are. As of today, there is probably not a more influential recording than this one.
On an entirely different point, we would like to express our gratitude to Brilliant once again. This record company stands out for a publishing and economic policy that, as of today, knows no equals in this business. It always hits the spot with its “historic” publications and powerful editions that would be otherwise overlooked. We are grateful to Brilliant for this precious collection of the complete works of Field’s concertos. As far as I know, the only other collection on the market is the one by O’Rurke for the record company Chandos. Putting aside the great value of this release (the wide array of piano works of the early 1800’s is a yet-to-be-discovered area and Field’s name is mainly known to Chopin connoisseurs), what is really impressive about this album is Restani’s “change of register” when transitioning from Brahms’ “steely” piano style into Field’s extremely gentle, refined and brilliant style. The concertos provide the most enjoyable listening experience and within a few minutes listeners will find themselves in Clementi’s London or in Saint Petersburg in the years 1810-1820, a time when Field was able to meet personalities such as Hummel, Steibelt, Glinka, Pushkin and Mickiewicz.
DECCA – Universal 2010
Paolo Restani is a thoroughbred virtuoso who dives headlong into complex passages. He is fully aware of having extraordinary technical resources with regard to the volume of sound during moments of intense speed, the incisiveness of touch and physical strength. The virtuoso tour de force of the two volumes of Brahms’ Variations on a Theme of Paganini is carried out in a spectacular and fierce way: broad and strong sonorities, extreme contrasts between tempos. These features can already be observed in the theme, despite Brahms’ “not too soon” rule.
The variations that truly stand out are the ones more ostensibly orchestral. For instance, the last variation of the first volume, which is an explosion of virtuosity, or the tenth variation of the second volume.
Power and speed are taken to extremes and they are supported by a sound that never fails to be incisive, despite being monotonous due to its percussive nature. The double octaves are almost exaggerated by the speed and clarity of the performance. There is not the slightest hesitation in the leaps. The sixth variation of the second volume, with obvious references to the violin technique, is a miracle of mimesis. These are the very same features characterizing the performances of the “troubled” transcriptions of Chopin, Weber and Bach’s sheets (like the Violin Sonata no. 1 in G minor). To Restani these sheets, acts of unattainable virtuosity, are a pure delight.
Contrary to other true-born virtuosos, Restani exhibits a particularly seductive phrasing, as shown by the long spans during the second variation of the second volume, as well as by theTheme & Variation from Sextet Op. 18 (the official piano transcription of the Andante, ma Moderato was written by Brahms. We are reffering to a transcription and not to a preliminary version). In this case as well, the limitation lies in the poor timbric variety and in sounds that fade away. Restani appears to be one of the rare and charming representatives of this way of playing. His programmes are the ultimate proof. He performs full recitals that are physically exhausting. Let’s think about his renditions of Liszt ‘s Transcendental Études, Rachmaninoff‘s Preludes, or about his “too soon” approach.
To conclude, his rendition of Bach’s Chaconne, as transcribed by Brahms for left hand only, is magnificent. It had already been included in Restani’s previous album by Decca (see no. 208 of MUSICA), an album in which virtuosity matches evocative sternness.
The last of the virtuosos. One of those truly talented virtuosos who are equipped with strong and spectacular skills and are gifted with a vivid poetic imagination. Virtuosos of this kind are an endangered species (as of late, they are really scarce in number). The previous album by Decca focused on a series of transcriptions that had been composed for left hand only. And now we have this album: the very essence of Brahms as a pianist. We know that the composer from Hamburg used the keyboard as a diary. For him, it was the safest and most familiar territory and it allowed him to trespass into multi-instrumental dimensions, to “write down” the most intimistic ideas and also to train and strengthen his virtuoso fingers. Brahms loved the piano, so much so that he tailored to it works that were originally destined for other instruments, works that included all of the above-mentioned features. We see it exemplified in this acrobatic album. It is a tribute to the technical-timbric exploration of the keyboard in the imaginative 28 Variations on the theme of Paganini’s famous Caprice No. 24 in A minor. The Variations are linked to the piano rendition of the second movement of Sextet no. 1 op. 18 (this seems the original version!) and to the “reinvented” works of Chopin, Weber and Bach. Among these, the monumental Chaconne is probably the best example: here, the solitary left hand, as if absorbed in meditation, plays the role of the violin.
Paolo Restani’s discography tells us a lot about his distinctive features as a performer. In addition to Scriabin, Bartók, Saint-Saëns, Casella, he also recorded Rachmaninoff’s Preludes and Liszt‘s Transcendental Études. These works, just like the ones we are about to introduce, do require extraordinary skills. This new album, which was recorded in 2008, is comprehensive of the two volumes of the Variations on a Theme of Paganini, of transcriptions of Chopin, Weber and Bach and also of the famous Chaconne for violin that was arranged for piano (left hand only) by Brahms. It is the first CD ever existed to contain a complete collection dedicated to Brahms’ piano works. The performance mainly focuses on the technical aspect, and Restani gives it utmost priority in the reworked versions of pieces by romantic artists, especially in the Variations of Paganini. Here, he usually employs more relaxed tempos than those of a virtuoso such as Thibaudet (Decca). However, on the whole, his interpretation conveys the chiaroscuro effect of this grand polyptych. For instance, in the sixth variation, the phrases are played with great impact, and in the twelfth variation “singability” is prioritised. Furthermore, in the second variation (volume II) the pianist offers a performance with a considerable use of tempo rubato, a performance that is rhythmically loose. In Bach’s Chaconne, Restani could either have adopted an eighteenth-century approach or he could have performed it in the style of Bach. The clarity of the composition, the use of a sharp and often loose sound and the way in which the phrases are presented seem to be reminiscent of Bach, despite the presence of Brahms’ crescendos, which emphasizes the pattern of the composition.
– AUDIO REWIEW
Nelle In the Variations on a Theme of Paganini, we can admire the technical mastery of the 40-year-old pianist and the great quality of a sound that has been somewhat too much processed by the record company professionals. In my opinion, the most interesting element of the album are Brahms’ challenging five studies based on the original works of Bach, Weber and Chopin. These are very rarely performed because of how challenging and complicated they are. As of today, there is probably not a more influential recording than this one.
– CLASSIC VOICE
Music for the left hand
DECCA – Universal 2009
Among the many things that a left hand can do there is certainly playing the piano. Paolo Restani gives proof of that in Amazing Piano. This album by Decca is far from being just a curiosity.
Those who remember the Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in D major and think that it is the only existing composition of the genre are very much mistaken. Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in D major was written by Maurice Ravel to allow his fellow pianist Paul Wittgenstein, whose right arm had been amputated, to keep pursuing his career.
Included in the album are a version of Bach’s amazing Chaconne as reworked by Brahms, Saint-Saëns’ enchanting Six Études op. 135, a Chopin’s Étude as transcribed by Godowsky. These and other compositions of Godowsky, Bartók, Scriabin and Liszt lend themselves to be listened to and enjoyed. An undoubtedly unique programme.
In Amazing Piano, what really amazes and fascinates the listeners is the variety of technical difficulties and of expressive registers conveyed through the piano. Melodies, rhythms, virtuosities, richness of timbres and harmonies are created by a single hand. Restani’s brilliance is the determining factor. However, let’s not forget that he’s been influenced by artists whose creative flair never failed to bedazzle audiences.
– FAMIGLIA CRISTIANA
Paolo Restani was sixteen years old when he made his successful debut in Santa Cecilia, thanks to the amazing Francesco Siciliani. Today Restani is a forty-year-old internationally renowned pianist who never misses an opportunity to amaze audiences. His last album Amazing piano by Decca features pieces by great composers such as Bach and Bartók, pieces that were written or transcribed for left hand only.
“The challenge is to try to achieve, using a single hand, mostly the left one, the same effect that would be produced when normally playing with both hands”, says the musician about his virtuoso challenge, which critic Piero Rattalino defined as a “devilish effrontery”, on the occasion of the album presentation.
A malicious person might think that this is Restani’s response to the coaching he received in Naples from the eminent master Vincenzo Vitale “Interpreters shoudn’t be so boastful, at the end of the day they don’t write the music they perform”. Five years after his debut at La Scala alongside the Filarmonica della Scala conducted by Riccardo Muti, this album is to be considered the end of a journey, a playful act, a display of dexterity carried out without giving in to plainness and to mere ostentation. In fact, the interpretation is always meaningful and charged with sensitivity. It is not the same kind of sensitivity that in Germany earned him a comparison with Vladimir Horowitz “due to the timbre, the richness of colours, the clarity of the tune”, as Allgemeine Zeitung reported in 1996, following a recital in Frankfurt in honour of Chopin.
A rounded and versatile pianist, Restani is open to interact with other artistic forms; he accompanied ballet dancers of the calibre of Carla Fracci or actors such as Enrico Maria Salerno. A lover of solo recitals as well as of chamber music, he worked with the Quartetto Fonè and the Quartetto David. He is keen on playing with orchestras because it gives him a sense of belonging to a great ensemble. This specific album does also include Brahms’ transcription of Bach’s famous Chaconne, bearing in mind the limitation posed by the fact that the original piece was written for solo violin. “Left hand only, a transcription devoid of frills, the whole musical fabric has been transposed down by an octave, so as to achieve on piano the sound effect produced by the low register of the violin”, says Rattalino. Regarding the main points of the programme, among Godowsky’s Studies on Chopin’s Études Op.10 it is worth mentioning no.6, but also Scriabin’s Prelude & Nocturne, Liszt’s Ungarns Gott and one of Bartók’s Studies.
When talking about his interpretations, Restani confesses that when he plays Brahms he would like the critics to say he played in an unselfconscious way, when he plays Liszt he would like the critics to say he played in a creative way, “but the thing I love the most is feeling the audience close to me while I’m playing: this pays off for all the efforts and provides great impetus”.
The pianist has often complained about having skipped adolescence because of excessive discipline: “The art of sounds was too important and overwhelming that I had to neglect other things, which I am going to miss for the rest of my days”, and then he adds: “For this reason, today I do not let music hold an exclusive first place in my life, but instead I put friends, feelings, basically the things in life, on that very same level, without hierarchies”.
– ARCHIVIO LA NUOVA SARDEGNA
This time, Paolo Restani, who has always been eager to take on virtuoso challenges, directs all the energy towards his left hand and follows a peculiar path, in a fantastical territory, where opposing reasons intertwine. On the one hand we have educational reasons, on the other hand we have reasons that are either the result of a drastic clash or of a painful necessity, like in Wittgenstein. During the performance, Restani exhibits a deep understanding of these reasons. He is able to grasp the true hidden spirit of each composer, from Brahms’ ascetic reductio ad unum in Bach’s Chaconne, to Saint-Saëns’ polished stylizations (which are reminiscent of Baroque motifs); from Scriabin’s subtle romantic delusions to Godowsky’s incredible artificiality and Bartók’s reckless determination in his juvenile Studies.
– CLASSIC VOICE
If we listened to this album without knowing the names of the tracks, we probably wouldn’t imagine that the pianist is playing using only his left hand. The right hand is never involved in these magnificent compositions written by Bach-Brahms, Chopin- Godowsky, Scriabin, Liszt, Saint-Saëns (Six Études op.135), Bartók, Godowsky and Sancan. The pairs of names indicate transcriptions: Brahms transcribed Bach’s Chaconne for piano (it is the greatest piece among the Violin Sonatas and Partitas) and “framed” it within the low register of the keyboard. He did so because he wanted to emphasize the concept of purity with the use of a single hand. It was meant as a perfect and “simple” gesture (simple doesn’t mean easy: the original polyphony is intact). In the Chopin-Godowsky piece, the poor left hand must undertake a thankless task. The metamorphosis is complete because it definitely feels like the pianist is using ten fingers. Étude op. 10 no. 6 reveals an ”impressionistic” dimension which in Chopin’s composition is only alluded to. All these pieces are extremely fascinating, despite being relatively unknown (and this is another distinctive element of the album). Scriabin’s Prélude et Nocturne literally makes the pianist’s hand wander around the keyboard as if he is a phenomenal juggler. That’s Paolo Restani: an incisive musician with an iridescent touch. Without ever being cloying, he seems to be painting on many different canvas. He gives his pictures a solid structure and an intense, poetic aura. Technically speaking, he is a wonder: suffice it to say that we forget that we are listening to a “left hand only” performance.
One of the “big sisters” within the record industry of classical music. Deutsche Grammophon/Philips/Decca were previously a single company known as Polygram, then, in 1998, they were purchased by Universal Music Group. Decca is the only one whose mission is to invest in young performers, who are often extremely talented and yet overlooked by the star system. Mirko Gratton, product manager at the Italian division of Decca, is giving special consideration to a new generation of intriguing pianists, who are working on programmes that offer an opportunity for recognition on a global scale. This is the story of Paolo Restani, who first worked with Decca in his early forties, having by then consolidated a brilliant career as a concert artist, with a predilection for the romantic repertoire of the 1800’s and 1900’s.
Restani’s technical confidence is the fundamental premise for dealing with a recital programme (with a playful title) that puts together pieces originally written for left hand only. From Brahms’ transcription of Bach’s Chaconne to a Study by Bartók, from Liszt’s Ungams Golt to Scriabin’s Prélude et Nocturne op. 9 no.1 & 2 or to Saint-Saëns’ Six Études op.135. Not to mention compositions by pianists such as Leopold Godoksky (Meditation, Etude Macabre, Studies on Chopin’s Études Op.10 no.6) and Pierre Sancan’s Caprice Romantique. The challenge is to use one hand while giving the impression of playing with two hands. Hence the responsibility and virtuoso difficulty, but also the desire to overcome technical aspects, to reveal the poetry hidden within these pieces. Restani conveys poetry with great taste and finesse, giving an aesthetic sense to pieces that, otherwise, may appear to be mere oddities.
A polished and brilliant recording; the timbric aspect is not the greatest ever.
Before Paul Wittgenstein, who had had his right arm amputated, commissioned famous works to Ravel, Prokofiev and Strauss, the piano repertoire for left hand only was very limited. For this reason, every track of this album should be considered an exceptional event. Some tracks reveal extremely rare and noble artistic purposes, such as Brahms’ transcription of Bach’s Chaconne, which was originally written for solo violin. Other tracks truly challenge human limitations, like Godowsky‘s Studies on Chopin’s Études, of which Restani performs no. 6 from op. 10. He juxtaposes it with two other pieces by the same composer, one being the devilish Etude macabre. Scriabin’s Prelude & Nocturne op. 9 brings together Wittgenstein (tendinitis deprived the composer of the use of his right hand, but luckily just temporarily) and Godowsky (the technical complexities involved in the transcendental parts produce such effects that the listeners are inclined to think that the pianist is using both hands). Liszt’s Ungarns Gott unveils the composer’s genius; Bartók’s juvenile Study on Four Piano Pieces BB 27 is a broad and dignified first movement of sonata; Saint-Saëns’ Six Études op.135 are a refined neo-barque suite. In Restani, fluency and utter command of sound nuances go hand in hand. Apart from having a superb technique, he is characterized by a poignant and versatile talent. Therefore, this album is not just a showcase for virtuosity but, most importantly, it is an extremely intriguing set of sometimes brilliant, sometimes simply unusual and fascinating pieces.
– FEDELTA’ DEL SUONO
More often than not the virtuosity is coupled with the explosion of sounds. The pianist’s artistry and technical mastery are aimed at revealing something different, at opening up new musical horizons. As far as piano interpretation is concerned, compositions written for left hand only are undoubtedly representative of a new musical path. Performers are not very familiar with this category of music pieces (American pianist and conductor Leon Fleisher stands out as one of the few experts in this field. In 1962, having suffered from focal dystonia in his right hand, he decided to explore in depth piano compositions for left hand only).
It shoudn’t come as a surprise that many composers created sheet music and concert scores for left hand only. Most importantly, one shouldn’t think that such compositions were written just to meet the needs of performers with impaired right hands, as in the case of renowned pianist Paul Wittgenstein, whose brother was the equally famous Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. In order to grasp the diversity and the fertile creativity of this genre, all you have to do is to listen to this fascinating album released by Decca, in which the young and brilliant pianist Paolo Restani introduces us to some compositions written exactly for left hand only.
The list ranges from Bach’s Chaconne as transcribed by Brahms to Camille Saint-Saëns’ Six Études op.135 and Leopold Godowsky’s Meditation; from a Study by Béla Bartók to two compositions by Alexander Scriabin. The repertoire chosen by the pianist is distinctly virtuoso, and it involves a great amount of technical difficulties (like in the case of Godowsky, the “unattainable” transcriber) that are faced by Restani with unequalled confidence and interpretative skill. After all, this pianist, a former pupil of Vincenzo Vitale, is accustomed to deal with the most insidious walls of piano literature (to cite an example, Liszt’s majestic Transcendental Études).
– MUSICA CLASSICA
In order to grasp the diversity and the fertile creativity of this genre, all you have to do is to listen to this fascinating album released by Decca, in which the young and brilliant pianist Paolo Restani introduces us to some compositions written exactly for left hand only.
The list ranges from Bach’s Chaconne as transcribed by Brahms to Camille Saint-Saëns’ Six Études op.135 and Leopold Godowsky’s Meditation, from a Study by Béla Bartók to two compositions by Alexander Scriabin.
The repertoire chosen by the pianist is distinctly virtuoso, and it involves a great amount of technical difficulties (like in the case of Godowsky, the “unattainable” transcriber) that are faced by Restani with unequalled confidence and interpretative skill. After all, this pianist, a former pupil of Vincenzo Vitale, is accustomed to deal with the most insidious walls of piano literature (to cite an example, Liszt’s majestic Transcendental Études).
Precision, fluent phrasing (as in Godowsky’s Meditation and Scriabin’s Nocturne), granitic timbre. Restani is well aware of his technical peculiarities and, with that in mind, he performs a formidable and unparalleled recital that gives us the impression that, at least upon first listening, he is playing with both hands. I would recommend this album especially to those people who would like to deepen their knowledge of piano concertos for left hand only. Ravel’s Concerto or Prokofiev’s Concerto no. 4 are some of the best examples.
– MUSICA CLASSICA
The left hand was considered the devil’s hand in a lot of cultures. There is actually something “devilish” in the challenge taken on by Paolo Restani, a talented pianist who is praised in concert halls all over the world. The challenge is called Amazing piano by Decca. This new album is entirely dedicated to the works of great composers such as Bach and Bartók, works that were written or transcribed for left hand only.
“The challenge” says Restani “is to try to achieve, using a single hand, the same effect that would be produced when normally playing with both hands”. What further complicates the endeavour is the fact that the left hand is the weaker of the two. It is a technical and expressive challenge (it must be said that the best way to appreciate it is to visually “witness” it in a live performance). The way the composition is written is such that the same limb must simultaneously perform the singing and the accompaniment, and the illusionistic polyphony forces the hand to leap across the keyboard.
No cheating allowed. The only legitimate winner is the one who is equipped with exceptional technique and interpretative sensitivity, and whose every single finger can be relied upon for the sake of virtuosity.
The piano repertoire for left hand only is well-structured but not very extensive. The most famous works are concertos for piano and orchestra which were commissioned to composers such as Ravel, Britten, Hindemith, Prokofiev by Paul Wittgenstein (the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s elder brother). Paul Wittgenstein had lost his right arm during the First World War. Here Restani deals with the “left side” of the piano in a version for chamber music. We shift from Joahnnes Brahms’s concise and respectful transcription of Bach’s Chaconne for solo violin to Bartók’s “savage” piano style, we go through Leopold Godowsky’s acrobatic pieces (he was one of the most acclaimed virtuosos in the 18th and 19th century and the author of an intricate series of Studies on Chopin’s -already intricate-Études). We also get to listen to Franz Liszt’s 1881 version for left hand only of Ungarns Gott and to Saint-Saëns’ splendid Six Études. The most expressive work within the programme is Alexander Scriabin’s famous Prélude et Nocturne op. 9, a masterpiece in which virtuosity is concealed under a heart-wrenching “singability”.
The forty-year-old pianist, who was a pupil of Vincenzo Vitale in Naples, faces up to the “diabulus in musica” challenge with pride but, at the same time, in a balanced manner. ”I skipped my teenage years because of excessive discipline (editor’s note: he debuted at 16 in Santa Cecilia): the art of sounds was too important and overwhelming that I had to neglect other things, which I am going to miss for the rest of my days. For this reason ”he adds“ today I do not let music hold an exclusive first place in my life, but instead I put friends, feelings, basically the things in life, on that very same level, without hierarchies”.
Pianist Paolo Restani signed a contract with Decca (Universal) and came out with an album dedicated to piano pieces for left hand only by Scriabin, Saint-Saëns, Bartók, Liszt, Brahms, Godowsky, Sancan. He is currently in the process of recording the complete works for piano solo by Johannes Brahms. The album titled Amazing Piano is now being sold in the best music stores. It is peculiar and intriguing at the same time because it offers a very unusual repertoire, namely pieces that were written for left hand only. It might seem contradictory to place a technical-expressive limit, by using just one hand. However, this choice is supported by two valid reasons. The first one is more of a necessity: it occurred when certain great pianists of the past (Géza Zichy, Paul Wittgenstein, Otakar Hollmann) who had suffered hand injuries asked composers to write pieces in order to be able to continue their performing career. The second reason has to do with virtuosity: to obtain with one hand the same effect that two hands would produce is synonym for exceptional bravura. In this album, Paolo Restani brings together the most significant pieces belonging to this “section” of piano repertoire, and he gifts us with an exciting recital. Born in 1967, Paolo Restani gave his first recital at 12 years old. When he was only 16, the famous artistic director Siciliani invited him to debut at the Accademia Nazionale di S. Cecilia in Rome, where he was welcomed by enormous success. Throughout a career that spans more than 25 years, he has performed in many of the most important musical centres in the world. The relationship with Decca is a crown jewel. “Sure, it is a contract of many years’ standing with a prestigious record company. We are carrying out a big project: Brahms’ complete works for solo piano in seven CDs. In the history of music, I’m the third or fourth pianist to commit to a programme which, by the way, has never been done by an Italian musician”. “Now tell us about Amazing Piano, a new release, in which you play using only the left hand”. “I chose unusual piano pieces, but it is not an acrobatic repertoire, the music is beautiful and, after listening to it once, you forget that I am playing with just one hand”.
– PRESS TODAY
A sophisticated virtuoso and an acclaimed interpreter of Liszt’s Transcendental Études and Chopin’s Études, Paolo Restani plays the “left hand only” card.
This kind of repertoire, which was a trend among the heroic performers of the 19th century, was successfully revived in the period between the two World Wars, a period during which supreme masterpieces were born. An example is Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in D major, which was composed around 1930 for the Viennese pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who had lost his right arm in the First World War.
Being without any visual dimension, which in this case is as important as the sound dimension, we can safely say that this album is venturesome. However, Restani successfully manages to produce an illusionistic effect, especially in Chopin’s Étude Op. 10, No. 6 as transcribed by Godowsky. It is a tremendously complicated version not only because it was intended for left hand only, but also because of the innovative melodic lines. It is an exquisitely refined work of sound illusions: Restani’s phrasing is entrancing and his virtuoso interpretation is flawless. This degree of perfection can also be
found in Sancan’s Caprice Romantique and in Scriabin’s Prélude et Nocturne, in a sort of mixture made of late Romantic elements. Within this mixture, the subdued melodic lines and the tender rubatos are not rendered with the same spontaneity and lightness which are typical of a certain type of performers. We are referring to those musicians who are not only virtuosos but also experts of the lounge piano style, such as Joaquin Achurro.
It’s obvious that Restani’s forte is the command of the keyboard, not the timbre palette, which in this case is compromised by a rather shrill sound recording. But the Chaconne of Bach/Brahms – that involves a heavy use of the pedal – is as solemn as it should be and the dullness of timbre in the performance of Saint-Saëns’ Études highlights its contrived and Neo-Baroque nature.
The renditions of Liszt ‘s Ungars Gott and Bartók’s vast Study (it’s actually an authentic tempo of sonata) are to be appreciated in every respect: an incisive and leonine touch, robust sonorities and the determination that is typical of who aims directly at the goal.
Music for piano and orchestra
Brilliant Classics 2008
The present album effectively provides us with a great opportunity to get to know composer Alfredo Casella (whose works have yet to be appreciated in a concert scenario) and to admire his elegant and captivating instrumental style. In these three pieces the piano is dominant. Paolo Restani, one of the most interesting and respected pianists of our country, is here conducted by Marzio Conti, who here, at the Teatro Regio in Turin, is in charge of the Filarmonica ‘900.
On the one hand we have the “Scarlattiana” as a typical example of Casella’s Neo-Classical inventiveness, of a brilliant divertissement that follows the great musical tradition of Domenico Scarlatti. It is an affectionate and cherished modern transposition, along the lines of the musical themes in Stravinsky’s Pulcinella. Restani and the Turin Orchestra are here in perfect harmony, and they masterfully define the ironic lines that shine through the entire composition.
On the other hand, the other two pieces are the ones that really draw the attention of the audience.
This is especially true for the symphonic poem A notte alta, one of Alfredo Casella’s first works. It was written in 1917 for piano and in 1921 for piano and orchestra, at a time when the composer from Turin was still heavily influenced by Richard Strauss’ symphonic compositions and by French impressionists. At the beginning, the composition hints at Gustav Mahler’s first Nachtmusik in his Symphony no. 7. The increasing tension of timbre makes us realise the great extent to which Casella had been impressed by Schönberg’s Verklärte Nächte .
The last composition of the album is the enchanting «Triple concerto», which was written in 1933 and played for the first time ever in New York on November 17th of the same year, under the baton of the legendary Austrian conductor Erich Kleiber. It was a remarkable event highlighting the underestimated works of Casella. The concerto has a structure that is typical of the concerto grosso in baroque music (but also marked by neoclassical elements). It is also firmly anchored to tonal language. The concerto emphasizes counterpoints that are wonderfully reshaped by the composer, becoming disharmonious fragments, which are a legacy of the above-mentioned multiharmony.
– MUSICA CLASSICA
Douze Études d’exécution transcendante, Concert Etudes
He is one of those pianists who, once you have seen them performing, you can’t forget about. He is a lifelong Liszt devotee, as shown in the album Studi Trascendentali, which comes as a free gift with the monthly publication Amadeus, on sale in newsstands. Restani is a romantic artist devoted to Chopin and Brahms. However, his commitment to Liszt is a calling card that places him within the virtuoso category. Sensitive, cultured, disquieted and disquieting, he takes this opportunity to create a ravishing, poetic, emotional kaleidoscope.
Paolo Restani performs Liszt’s Transcendental Études (Amadeus) with a “steely” technique.
A great pianist who knows how to conquer the audience with Liszt. The key elements of his performance are a restless passion in an avalanche of notes and chords, an astonishing virtuosity, an exploration of the keyboard (that, if not done right, might compromise his career) and a balanced use of pedal. These qualities make Restani stand out as a leading figure, a hero, an entertainer. The insightful musician is well aware that Liszt is an explorer of modern music, as well as a forerunner: he merges elements in unexpected ways, he defies language, he trespasses boundaries. Wagner, impressionism and many other precious facets define him as an artist. Paolo Restani, a romantic artist with a steely technique (maybe, a little too steely), here performs the Transcendental Études, the Two Concert Études and the Étude de perfectionnement in a sort of vehement flow.”
– IL GIORNALE
Due to purely historical reasons, neither metaphysical nor related to technique and handcraft, the piano is the instrument that more than any other suffered pressure from the cultural agitations occurring through these last three centuries. As a consequence, it is the one that has been more compelled to “react”. This has had an impact on the role of the pianist as well, who has been encouraged or forced or inspired to perform in a certain way in front of an audience. The visual effect must neither be bland nor precarious, but instead firm and strong. A pianist, much more than a clarinettist, a bassoonist or a timpanist, probably even more than a violinist or a harpist, tends to resemble, also physically (“intelligenti pauca”, Latin for “a word to the wise is enough”), the instrument he plays. Extremely gifted, tormented, cultured, politically engaged pianists who perform in public with their shoulders hunched, their back bent over, a tired and gloomy face, won’t be properly appreciated, either during or at the end of a concert, no matter how wonderfully skilled they are. The first time we saw Paolo Restani play was in a theatre in Palmanova, an elegant and “military” city. He took our breath away with his rendition of Liszt. The pianist possesses elegant simplicity and positive determination. He seems to be reassuring us that he will take everything seriously, that it is possible to play with a smile while chasing thoughts that may be noble, sometimes painful and tragic, but that are always far from being negative and hopeless, never ever pessimistic. Rather than giving a technical description with comments on typing and on the extent of faithfulness to the timing of the metronome (which honestly are becoming less and less interesting to us as we age) we prefer to describe Restani in a different way. As a pianist and a musician, he is an ”Italian” personality because of his combative, creative nature and artistic versatility. These are the qualities that characterize his performing style. His persona has nothing to do with the words “cunning”, “skeptic”, or “street-smart”, which we despise like a plague. In this album, when we listen to his rendition of Liszt’s Transcendental Études, during Mazeppa, Eroica, Wild Hunt we feel like climbing a mountain. In Harmonies du soir we are trapped by the queen Mab, and in Chasse-neige we are overwhelmed by an indefinable turmoil. There are three other magnificent and arduous studies: the Two Concert Études “Forest Murmurs“ and “Dance Of The Gnomes”, and the Étude de Perfectionnement “Ab irato”. When we listen to the latter we are so shaken that we eventually make peace with the world, in defiance of the Romantic attitude.
– IL SOLE 24 ORE