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  • Writer's pictureGeoffrey Dean

Bel Canto Cello: Adrian Bradbury Plays Piatti's Opera Fantasies

British cellist Adrian Bradbury’s 2020 2-CD release of Alfredo Piatti: The Operatic Fantasies is a musical celebration of the greatest hits of Italian opera, as reimagined for the cello by one of the most outstanding virtuosos of the 19th century. A project backed by significant scholarship and consummate skill, it is also an illuminating document of Bradbury’s own journey with a previously-neglected part of Piatti’s compositional legacy, from Bradbury’s discovery of unpublished Piatti fantasies in the cellist-composer’s archive in his native Bergamo, Italy, through a decade-long process of learning, performing, and ultimately recording them.

During this period Bradbury worked with Oliver Davies, the pianist on the Piatti double disc. The partnership with Davies, a performer steeped in the traditions of Italian opera, adds another layer of musical authority to the duo’s nuanced interpretations of some of the most moving bel canto melodies ever composed. Bradbury’s transcendence of Piatti’s astonishing array of cello pyrotechnics is a source of awe and inspiration. In an interview Bradbury gives us some clues as to how he achieved this: “One cannot separate bel canto from Piatti. All his life Piatti played this repertory. He performed with Verdi’s wife, Giuseppina Strepponi, he shared a stage with the finest singers of his day – Giuditta Pasta, Grisi, Rubini, Luigi Lablance, Antonio Tamburini, Jenny Lind, Maria Malibran and Michael Balfe. He wrote from the heart, but the ‘style’ is correct: the Fantasies are a delight, but Piatti was not simply ‘dabbling’. They are not a vehicle for virtuosity but, like [Piatti’s 12 solo] Caprices, works of real quality. The virtuosity was taken for granted; it was the musicianship that Piatti put first.”

A regular guest principal cellist of major London orchestras and fully equal to all of Piatti’s technical challenges, Bradbury takes this idea to heart. He embraces a modest performance style that is “without display” (as the self-effacing virtuosity of Alwin Schroeder was often described), allowing the listener unfiltered access to the music itself. Bradbury and Davies maintain an exquisite balance between the original operatic inspiration and Piatti’s equally inspired cellistic interpretations, creating a truly transformative listening experience and an important model for future musical researchers and performers.

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