MARIA GIACCHINO CUSENZA (1898-1979): Piano Works - Waltz, Prelude and Fugue in G Minor, Corale e Variazioni, Sonata, 3 pezzi, Meriggio Festoso, Evocazione, Basso Ostinato, Umoresca.
Catalogue Number: 10V045
Label: Da Vinci Classics
Description: Cusenza was a highly regarded teacher in her native Palermo (in a 40-year career), a pianist noted for her extensive repertoire and fine technique, and a composer whose works were praised by Pizzetti, Casella, and Cilea. Her idiom remained tonal and traditional, but highly accomplished and of high quality, throughout. The bulk of her output is from the mid-1930s to the immediate post-war years, and carried on composing, at a slower rate, into the mid-1950s, but apparently not during the last 25 years of her life. The 1936 Prelude and Fugue was her first work to meet with widespread recognition. It is clearly modeled on Bach (thematically it is her own), very much in the style of a piano transcription of the Bach-Busoni type. The striking 1946 Sonata is original in form and content, and is the most pianistically advanced work here. A robust and energetic first section is followed by a waltz-like second subject, but this is followed by a glittering scherzo and then a reflective 'slow movement' which serve as a development section. The opening material is recapitulated, and then in a final section that takes up fully a quarter of the piece, a grand statement of the first subject is repeated with variations and punctuated by a powerful progression of chords. The Chorale and Variations, from 1955 (the booklet annotator confuses it with a 1942 piece with a very similar title), is a very fine work, inventive and characterful, and pianistically impeccable, but very conservative in idiom - if anything, more so than the works of a decade earlier; Cusenza clearly ignored altogether the trends in avant-gardism that were emerging after the war. The theme is grand and stately; the variations range from limpidly flowing to playful and capricious or boldly assertive, but largely avoid stormy virtuosity. Traces of Bach, Debussy and Franck, and German Romanticism are as present as ever. The other pieces are slighter, but charming and original; Basso ostinato is a serious and determined set of many-textured variations over an imposing four-note motif; the Three Pieces are a "Pastoral Prelude", a drowsy Siciliana, twice interrupted by a flurry of activity, and a playful minuet-scherzo; the 'festive noontide' in Erice (a town in western Sicily) mixes Lisztian bells with Impressionistic landscape, as does the atmospheric Evocazione; Umoresca is not too distantly related to Mussorgsky's unhatched chicks. Calogero Di Liberto (piano).