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“Libetta in Lecce: The Art of the Virtuoso” is a 2003 DVD
release of a 2002 live recital by pianist Francesco Libetta.
The setting is the Paisiello Theatre in Lecce, Italy, where
Libetta has lived for the past several years.

This concert DVD is different from others I’ve seen in that
there is commentary (in Italian with English subtitles)
interspersed throughout the recital by various people in the
music world in Italy, including a choreographer, a bookseller,
and a teacher, among others. In my opinion, I suppose this
was interesting, but not of great importance. Of course,
what WAS of great importance was Libetta’s playing, as well
as his interesting choice of repertoire.

Francesco Libetta (1968 – ) is one of those pianists for whom
no difficulties seem to exist. He performed this varied repertoire
like a true poet of the piano; it was almost a throwback to the
great pianist-composers of the early part of the 20th Century.
Libetta first came to the attention of pianophiles when
he performed the entire set of “Godowsky-Chopin Études”
(all 53 of them!) from memory in concert, and was the first
pianist ever to do so. Anyone familiar with these studies
based on Chopin’s Études will appreciate the nature of
this undertaking.

What I find most intriguing about Libetta is the range of his
musical interests and recitals. For example, in this recital he
opened with Beethoven’s “Sonata, Op. 31, No. 3″ and
ended with Brahms “Paganini Variations, Op. 35.” It was
interesting enough, but between these two Germanic
“bookends” were pieces by Delibes, Chaminade, Ballet Music
from “Rosamunde” by Schubert (transcribed by Godowsky),
Ravel’s “La Valse” in the composer’s own transcription for
piano, “Souvenir de Paganini,” “Tarantelle,” and “Mazurka in
A Minor” by Chopin. Three encores ended this recital,
beginning with Debussy’s “Clair de Lune,” continuing with
Godowsky’s transcription of the well known Saint-Saëns’
“The Swan” from his “Carnival of the Animals”and ending
with Chopin’s familiar “Polonaise in A-Flat, Op. 53.” Now
THAT’s what I call an interesting program!

I noticed that the instrument he used was a Fazioli piano
and the sonorities he drew forth from it were remarkable,
without the muddiness in the extreme lower registers that
is often heard during recitals, when these notes are played
at high volume. As I said, he played like an aristocratic poet
without a sense of “working,” in order to manage all of the
notes in the more technically difficult pieces. Libetta is a
complete musician, and he has a number of compositions
to his credit. He also conducts.

While the sound is good, neither it nor the video quality on
this disc are topnotch. I believe that those who wish to see truly
good video quality, as well as an excellent use of multi-angle
camera work should watch Bruno Monsaingeon’s DVD of
Libetta’s 2003 recital at La Roque d’Anthéron. It’s even more
ambitious from a technical standpoint, and the sound is also
better on that disc. But really, both of these discs should be
seen. After all, it’s the music which should come first, as well
as the performance thereof. This 110-minute disc was
released on the VAI label and believe me, you won’t
be disappointed!

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