Poulenc meets Piaf on Antonio Pompa-Baldi’s Enchanting Steinway & Sons Debut Album
On his debut Steinway & Sons recording The Rascal and the Sparrow, the imaginative Italian-born pianist Antonio Pompa-Baldi spins a whimsical, heartrending dialogue between Francis Poulenc and Edith Piaf. By weaving together solo piano arrangements of music from these icons of mid-20th-century French chanson, Pompa-Baldi evokes a glittering memory of one of history’s most romanticized eras. The album is available for download in the US on September 3 and on CD September 24.
In 1959, Francis Poulenc finished up his series of 15 improvisations for piano with No. 15 in C minor, subtitled “L’hommage à Édith Piaf.” While nobody knows why he called it this, the three-and-a-half minute piece echoes the melancholy, impassioned strains that The Little Sparrow (the diminutive Piaf’s famous nickname) would have been belting out to sold-out crowds at Paris’ Olympia Theater that year. This charming work, and its mysterious dedication, is the inspiration behind The Rascal and the Sparrow: Poulenc Meets Piaf, pianist Antonio Pompa-Baldi’s Steinway & Sons debut that captures all of the passion, heartbreak and beauty of mid-20th-century Paris.
The recording blends Pompa-Baldi’s elegant transcriptions of some of Poulenc’s most melodious art songs, including the famous cabaret-inspired “Les chemins de l’amour,” with composer Roberto Piana's "elaborations" on beloved chansons from Piaf’s extensive songbook, including “La vie en rose” and “Non, je ne regrette rien.” The result is an exquisite time capsule that transports us back to Paris of the 1920s and ‘30s.
Although it is unknown if Poulenc and Piaf knew each other during their lifetimes, they shared a great deal including common friends (Jean Cocteau, for example), infectious melodies and, above all, a profound honesty in their art. They also died in the same year, 1963, and this album coincides thus with the 50th anniversary of their passing.
With his intuitive grasp of the deep humanity that permeates this music, Pompa-Baldi draws an intimate portrait of these two larger-than-life personalities who elevated the art of the song both in the concert hall and the cabaret. The recording opens with Poulenc’s bittersweet waltz, “Les Chemins de l’Amour,” and the Improvisation No. 15, “Hommage à Édith Piaf” before transitioning seamlessly into a stunning, ornamented rendition one of Piaf’s signature tunes, “Hymne à l’amour,” setting into motion an elegiac arc that makes us nostalgic for a time and place that we’ve never known.
Other songs on the recording from Poulenc include transcriptions from several of his song cycles including Cinq Poèmes de Max Jacob; Métamorphoses; Deux Poèmes de Louis Aragon; Tel Jour, Telle Nuit; Chansons Gaillardes and Huit Chansons Polonaises, as well as the evocatively titled “Nos souvenirs chantent” and “Montparnasse.” On the Piaf side, fans will recognize some of her most triumphant successes including “La Vie en Rose,” “Non, Je ne regrette rien,” “Mon legionnaire,” “Les amants d’un jour,” and many more. One of the year’s most original solo piano recordings, The Rascal and the Sparrow demands to be played on repeat.
ANTONIO POMPA-BALDI, born and raised in Italy, has toured extensively in five continents, performing in some of the world's major concert venues including New York's Carnegie Hall, Cleveland's Severance Hall, Milan's Sala Verdi, Boston's Symphony Hall, Beijing’s Forbidden City Concert Hall, and Paris' Salle Pleyel. He also appeared in London, Rome, Tokyo, Auckland, Houston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Kiev, Seoul, Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Hong Kong, to name a few.
First prize winner of the 1999 Cleveland International Piano Competition, Pompa-Baldi is also a top prize winner at the 1998 Marguerite Long-Jacques Thibaud Competition, and a silver medalist at the 2001 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.
Mr. Pompa-Baldi's recordings include an all-Brahms disc, a live and unedited recital from his award-winning Cliburn Competition performances, the Josef Rheinberger Piano Sonatas, the entire piano music of Edward Grieg, in 12 volumes, a Rachmaninoff disc, a Schumann album, as well as Sonatas by Johann Nepomuk Hummel.
Antonio Pompa-Baldi is a Steinway Artist. He serves as Distinguished Professor of Piano at the Cleveland Institute of Music. He also gives master-classes around the world, often in conjunction with his performing engagements. For more information, please visit pompa-baldi.com.
The Rascal and the Sparrow, Poulenc Meets Piaf from pianist Antonio Pompa-Baldi, will be released by Steinway & Sons [CD 30015] digitally on September 3rd and physically on September 24th.
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