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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Robert DeGaetano, Piano Concerto No. 1; Chopin, Piano Concerto No. 1; DeGaetano

Robert DeGaetano is a world-class pianist and, as is clear on the recording of his revised Piano Concerto No. 1 (Navona 5929) (coupled with his performance of Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1), a world-class composer.

The story of the concerto is related on the accompanying DVD, "Journey of Passion." The first version was dedicated to his parents and performed to acclaim in 1989. But he was not fully satisfied with the results, so the score sat in his desk drawer until fairly recently, when he set about revising portions of it, rededicating it to the memory of his brother, who passed not long ago.

The new version is given a rousing, sparkling performance on the disk by DeGaetano with the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra under John Yaffee. The inclusion of Chopin's first concerto is fitting, since the DeGaetano work is a modern member of the classically romantic concertos in the line of Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninoff and then its further expansion into wider tonality by such artists as Prokofiev. That is only to say that the DeGaetano work uses the piano as a spectacularly virtuosic springboard for eloquent dialog with the orchestra and some extraordinarily dynamic, expressive, kinetically charged music.

It's not that DeGaetano's work especially sounds like any of the forebears mentioned, but that the tradition, the evolved technique, the interplay is related to preceding composers as ancestors are to their progeny. The fourth movement "Danse exotique" is very rousing, nearly irresistible in its charm, and a very fitting capstone to a work of our time and yet timeless in its own way. DeGaetano and the orchestra are wondrously alive throughout. And the difficult solo part is handled with great elan.

The Chopin First Concerto is given an excellent reading as well. DeGaetano brings out the singing mellifluousity of the solo part and the orchestra responds in kind. It's one of the very best versions I have heard.

The 20-minute documentary DVD included with the release gives a good introduction to DeGaetano the composer, the pianist, the man with insightful narrative from the composer on his life and devotion to music, along with how he came to write and revise the concerto, and some glimpses into the session that put it all together for us to hear.

This is a release anyone with a love of the piano concerto in general will find a major addition to their collection, for DeGaetano's artistry with both his and Chopin's works. Those who follow contemporary music will surely want to hear the DeGaetano opus. And in general it's fine music, well performed, music of the sort that should appeal to anyone with a serious interest.

Bravo, Maestro DeGaetano!

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