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Alexander PEÇI (b. 1951)
Albanian Lament

Alb-Postmortorium (Albanian Lament) (1997) * [10:10]
Rimodelazh (Remodeling) (1996-1998) ** [9:55]
Heteroondulacion (Polymotion) (1996) *** [14:02]
Spectrum (1998) **** [5:01]
Rrenjet e tingujve (Sonic Roots) (1995) # [7:00]
Policentrum (1999) ## [14:43]
Bujar Lako (speaker)*
Irini Qiriako (vocalist) *
Suzana Frasheri (soprano) *
Merita Rexha (piano) **
Pjeter Guralumi (cellos) ***
Ensemble Spectrum ****
Fatos Qerimi (clarinet) #
AMRA Ensemble/Zhani Ciko ##
rec. March 4-6, 2000 at Studio 1, Radio Tirana.
licensed from EMI Classics
LABOR RECORDS LAB 7030-2 [61:29]

Albania, when it shows up on Western radar, is known for both its conflict and its adherence to tradition. Often these two traits cross paths. This first release of what are hinted to be further explorations of contemporary Albanian music, hardly rests on traditional laurels, though the part-singing and tonalities of the region surface and resurface throughout the disc.

The works here are a wide ranging survey of composer Aleksandër Peçi. Certainly the most harrowing is the title work, scored for narrator, traditional vocalist and soprano against a background of electronics and tape loops. Memorializing the foundering of an Albanian refugee ship filled with women and children in 1997, the piece is claustrophobic and dark, the narrator leaping out of the speakers as women sob behind him and water rushes. The text is based on fragments of the Gilgamesh epic, spoken in Albanian in the Hades-low voice of Bujar Lako: " I looked at the wide sea/I shouted loud: Mankind is dead". More than any work in the classical/orchestral realm, this piece calls to mind the Yugoslavian Industrial group Laibach, with its dark swirling and thick atmosphere, as well as the gritty and threatening spoken text. The electronic timbres that are used — and this in a recording supervised by the composer — tend somehow to cheapen the deep pain and sorrow of the work, giving the impression that the piece is merely the background music for a horror film, which can hardly be the intended effect. One can’t help thinking that the choir voicings would be so much more powerful if sung by an actual choir.

The trio of small pieces that follow couldn’t be more distantly removed in tone. Titled Rimodelazh (Remodeling) for piano solo and played well by Merita Rexha, are reworkings of themes the composer used as film music. The first two are heavily reminiscent of the Chopin-influenced early Scriabin. The last of the pieces, entitled Feeling the Pulse of the Day, retains the sound of Scriabin, but in this case the last of his Preludes.

One of the most successful pieces here, Heteroondulation (Polymotion), from 1996, shows electronics to far greater effect than Lament. The piece, scored for two cellos and electronics, is a longer work of 14 minutes. The mosaic of sound from the tape/electronics — filled with noises, traditional Armenian instruments, drumbeats, and ominous chord swellings, actually gives the illusion that the tape is playing off the live cellos! In this instance, however, there is only one instrumentalist playing off the other two parts. Pjetër Guralumi, who was one of the soloists who premiered the work, plays both cello parts. Well recorded and with a sense of drama, form and timing, it recalls Schnittke’s works for strings and electronics, only without the whip-lashing between baroque continuo and the ultra-modern.

Sonic Roots (1995) is a spectacular virtuoso piece for clarinet, excellently played by Fatos Qerimi. A seven-minute work, it is filled with eerie birdsongs, same-note trills, and alternate voicings. In spite of its challenging tonality, I see this as a piece that can see wider performance on the recital stages of the world. Its form, more of a narrative than making use of any sort of traditional structure, nevertheless does not lose the listener in needless flash or ornamentation.

Policentrum (1999) for string orchestra shows, as with most of these pieces, a love of layered sound, with Albanian and Western tonalities cross-weaving into an intricate Moire that calls to mind the work of Gubaidulina or Shostakovich at his most hard-edged. The superimposition doesn’t end there, with conflicting meters overlapping, themes tossed back and forth over the divided strings, sometimes simply played simultaneously. Conducted and played with conviction by the AMRA ensemble, this work could also see wider recognition.

Performed and recorded in Albania, this disc, according to the booklet, was intended to showcase Albanian contemporary music and musicians. It does both well, with good recording quality and presence. I look forward to future releases.

David Blomenberg



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