Italian pianist Antonio Pompa-Baldi performs and teaches around the world. His latest CD, “Napoli,” is a touching tribute to the Italy he loves, and it's WCRB's CD of the Week.
The Italian vocal tradition runs deep in Antonio Pompa-Baldi’s spirit. He’s a pianist who has discovered the mysterious secret of coaxing a singing sound from the instrument’s hammers and strings. That secret, combined with a heartfelt understanding of the music’s emotional meaning, is a big part of why Pompa-Baldi’s new recording Napoli has such a personal and touching effect. He is embracing his Italian heritage with a beautiful collection of “improvisations,” written for him by fellow Italian Roberto Piana. They are all based on Neapolitan songs, some famous and some not, and they give both artists a chance to dive into their love for their beautiful country.
Piana takes these songs in many directions, urging virtuosity out of some and giving in to the romance of others. The title track “Napoli” (track 20) is a moody fantasy on five different melodies. It slips here and there into a sparsely written and haunting kind of melancholy, and he’s written it with a heartbreaking emptiness surrounding the themes.
Heartbreaking, too, are the popular songs “Era de Maggio” (“It Was May”) composed in 1885 by Mario Pasquale Costa (track 7) and “La Rosa” (track 6). Antonio navigates them as if he were caught in a dream – playing with as much love for the piano itself as he has for Italy.
In the nineteenth century, an annual song-writing competition for a festival in Naples brought about the formal institution of the Neapolitan song. The winning entry at the very first festival was “Te voglio bene assaie” (“I love you so much”) which you’ll find on track 14, with all its salon romance still intact. You’ll also find some clever gaming from composer Roberto Piana when he merges two Neapolitan masters from very different times: keyboard wizard Domenico Scarlatti (born in 1685) and Ernesto de Curtis (born in 1875). The famous song “Torna a Surriento” (“Back to Sorrento,” track 15) becomes a “Scarlattian Improvisation” – a mashup that Pompa-Baldi pulls off with real charm.
The CD opens with a smile – the song “Funiculi funiculà” made famous by so many great tenors. Even here, with the melody all lit up by extravagant flourishes and surprise antics, Antonio Pompa-Baldi makes his virtuosity sing – and he does it in the very best Italian way.
Antonio Pompa-Baldi has traveled around the world teaching and performing, including a visit to our studios. When the world was celebrating Franz Liszt’s 200th anniversary, he was one of five pianists whose stunning live performances in our Fraser Performance Studio were chosen by Cathy Fuller as unforgettable. NPR thought so too. Listen for yourself to how well Pompa-Baldi’s singing sound works for Liszt!
Listen to Pompa-Baldi in concert at WCRB's Fraser Performance Studio:
For more information and to purchase this recording, visit ArkivMusic.