CD review: Themes & Variations – Nazareno Ferruggio

Nazareno Ferruggio

Domenico ScarlattiAllegro from Sonata # 21/X
Domenico Scarlatti – Allegro from Sonata # 18/XIII
Cesar Franck – Prelude, Chorale and Fugue
Sergei Rachmaninoff – Variations on a Theme of Chopin, op.22
Frank Martin – Prelude, no. 7

Nazareno Ferruggio, piano

Two sprightly and typically brief sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti open this new CD from Italian pianist Nazareno Ferruggio. Neatly executed by Ferruggio, they provide a pleasantly energetic introduction to the bigger works which form the substance of this recording – Franck’s Prelude, Chorale and Fugue, and Rachmaninoff’s Variations on a Theme of Chopin.

In his Prelude, Chorale and Fugue, Franck was harking back to his Baroque antecedents, specifically J S Bach. The work is profound, earnest and searching, and – like Bach at his most intense and spiritual – is simple in its intent, eschewing theatrical tricks and pretension to emphasise its universal messages of doubt and faith, darkness and light, and a final ecstatic resolution through the ingenious counterpoint of the fugue and joyous peals of bells at the end.

Ferruggio’s performance is sensitive to the structure, scope and seriousness of this music, and the darkly textured and dramatic Prelude is an essay in restrained emotion. He finds more freedom of expression in the great harped Chorale, whose gently rolled chords (which require the left hand to reach over into the treble to sound the theme), heard at first as if from a distance, grow in richness and depth. The Fugue, while displaying all the traditional features of a fugue, goes beyond the strictly academic to become a grand psychological statement of faith and hope. Ferruggio offers an imposing and powerful culmination, highlighting the polyphony and recalling the earlier motifs from the Prelude and Chorale.

The same intensity is evident in Rachmaninoff’s Variations on a Theme of Chopin (the theme being Chopin’s Prelude in C minor, Op 28, no. 20), a set of 22 variations which is often overshadowed by the more well-known and frequently performed sets of variations on themes by Corelli and Paganini. The variations develop in complexity and length, with a wide variety of moods and pianistic invention. Ferruggio is adept at handling the rapid shifts in mood and technique, and as in the Franck, his sensitivity to the structure and his ability to hold the music just in check lends added dramatic effect. Delicate lyricism is contrasted with filigree textures and rich chordal passages. Like the Franck, this work is played with commitment and insight.

The title of the CD, ‘Themes & Variations’, is carried through to the concluding work, a Prelude by Swiss composer Frank Martin, which, in a controlled and thoughtful performance, recalls the sweeping dramatic statements, dark intensity, and bell-like climaxes of the Franck.

The CD includes brief programme notes and biography of the artist in Italian, with a slightly uncertain English translation.

For more information about Nazareno Ferruggio, please visit his website