Vittorio Rieti (1898-1994)
Complete Piano Solo and Duo Works Volume 1
Suite champêtre (1948)
Three Vaudeville Marches (1969)
Second Avenue Waltzes (1942)
Valse Fugitive (1970)
Twelve Preludes (1979)
Six Short Pieces (1932)
Five Pieces for Young Pianists (1942)
Giorgio Koukl (piano)
Virginia Rossetti (piano)
rec. 2022, Studio Bottega del pianoforte, Lugano, Switzerland
Première recordings, except Suite & Waltzes
Grand Piano GP921 
Vittorio Rieti was born to an Italian family in Alexandria. As it happened to many composers in the 1930s, racist policies of Mussolini’s Italy compelled him to emigrate. He spent the rest of his life in the USA.
We have pianist and composer Giorgio Koukl to thank for removing the veil that has hidden these works for too long. He enlisted the support of Virginia Rossetti in the project. Six of the eight items are world première recordings. Vittorio Rieti had been poorly served by those who decide what should be performed or recorded. The irony is that one cannot guess why: the music is approachable, full of joie de vivre. Rieti impressed the likes of Diaghilev, who commissioned two ballets from him, just these two he ever invited an Italian composer to write. It is odd how someone famous for a while is then shunned, the music forgotten for decades.
What is immediately apparent is the invention and excitement Rieti injects into his music. You feel that you are in for a treat and you will enjoy every minute. The Suite champêtre for two pianos kicks off this programme with a nod to Bach obvious from the first notes. Rieti plays with the potential that Bach’s music allows all musicians to explore and exploit. Franco Carlo Ricci’s booklet notes put it perfectly. Rieti’s finest works, which include this suite, “exist for the pleasure of being written and heard, and for the joy and intellectual stimulation they inspire”. One ought to add the pleasure of being played, which comes over very strongly. One can imagine the smiles on the pianists’ faces. Bourrée, Aria et écossaise and Gigue are all quite thrilling. The middle movement, more sober but still replete with wonderful melodies, was definitely my favourite.
Three Vaudeville Marches have a jaunty, and again the pleasure in their creation is clear. Rieri wrote Second Avenue Waltzes when he was living on the corner of East 66th Street and Second Avenue. He considered them his finest work. They did get many performances. Ricci calls Rieti’s opinion justified but I cannot see what elevates them above the others. They are all appealing, gorgeously melodic and harmonious.
The programme shows that Rieti was a master of the miniature. There is a breathtaking wealth of ideas in works which mostly come in at under three minutes, some under two. Not a note is wasted. Not for nothing has Ricci compared elements of Rieti’s Valse fugitive to Satie’s “spare but intensely expressive style”. Both composers could put a lot into the tiniest piece. They were economic geniuses when it comes to making every note count. Rieti’s Twelve Preludes for piano confirm that. There are earworms awaiting their entry into the listener’s sub-conscience where they could easily play on a loop for a long time.
Rieti had discovered his talent and his preferred style, which Ricci characterises as “simple, effective, highly individual” early in his career. Take Six short pieces written apparently at a single sitting. The fifth, Barcarola, was the author’s favourite but again they are all delightful. Five pieces for Young Pianists are true miniatures: the longest lasts 88 seconds. I do not know to what extent young pianists have discovered them but they seem fun to play.
The pianists give flawless performances, deft and with a light touch, to showcase these superb compositions. I do not know if Rieti’s orchestral works are also rarely recorded but on this evidence there must be a wealth of enjoyable material. I look forward to more music of this outstanding composer. I am pleased to have been introduced to him.
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