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Rapsodi - Albanian Piano Music: Volume II
Çesk ZADEJA (1927-1997)

Tokkata (Toccata) [3:31]
Theme and Variations in E minor [5:21]
Feim IBRAHIMI (1935-1997)

Vals (Waltz) [1:21]
Valle për piano (Dance for piano) [2:53]
Tonin HARAPI (1928-1992)

Sonatina (Allegro non troppo [5:53]; II. Andante [4:08]; III. Rondo: Allegro con brio [3:28])
Këngë mbrëmje (Evening Song) [4:33]
Temë me variacione (Theme and Variations) [9:14]
Aleksander KOMNINO

Këngë polifonike (Polyphonic Song) [2:12]
Këngë (Song) [1:08]
Tish DAIJA (1926-2004)

Vals (Waltz) [1:28]
Jani PAPADHIMITRI (b. 1948)

Baresha e Vogël (The Little Shepherdess) [2:21]
Alberto PAPARISTO (b. 1925)

Scherzo [3:22]; Val (Dance) [1:09]
Kozma LARA (b. 1931)

Ballade No. 2 [5:28]
Sonatë për piano nr. 2 (Sonata No. 2 for piano) [9:25]
Ramadan SOKOLI (b. 1920)

Rapsodi Shqiptare nr. 2 (Albanian Rhapsody No. 2) [3:52]
Simon GJONI (1926-1991)

Prelud në mi minor (Prelude in E minor) [2:26]
Tokata (Toccata) [1:37]
Kirsten Johnson (piano)
rec. St George's Bristol, 14, 17 January 2005 DDD
GUILD GMCD 7300 [74:58]
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We need more pianists prepared to venture out into unfashionable regions. American-born Kirsten Johnson is one such pianist: valiant, having the acumen to choose her revivals wisely and with both sensitivity and fire in her playing Having already recorded the piano music of Goetz and Schulz-Beuthen (GMCD7282 and GMCD7277 review) for Guild she now returns to Albanian music. Her first disc from this neglected genre is titled Këngë on Guild GMCD7257 review . Johnson was a pupil of Ronald Smith, a noted champion of another neglected composer, Alkan. Johnson has made four tours of Albania and her concert in Tirana was a televised gala event. Her interest in the piano music of Albania has been pursued with a pilgrimís seriousness extending to interviewing many of the composers represented on these two collections.

Rooted in the folk music and traditions of Albania these pieces owe their existence to the communist regime of Enver Hoxha (1944-1985). They represent part of the response to the demand for music borne of the soil, not elitist but open to appreciation by farm worker, shopkeeper, road worker and factory hand. Kirsten Johnson points out that Rapsodi "is a musical representation of the epic, a narrative folk-song which tells the story of an historic event ... a central part of Albania's folk tradition." I am indebted to her programme notes which you can read in full on the Guild website

Çesk Zadeja studied at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow (1951-56) and wrote works for orchestra, choir and ballet, as well as a piano concerto and smaller instrumental pieces. He achieved the highest honour bestowed on a musician in Albania by being given the title 'Artist i popullit' (Artist of the People). Tokkata dates from 1952 is tense and peckingly insistent yet delicately attentive to shifts in dynamic. His Theme and Variations in E minor has dignity of a village cortege, scintillating flair, is elusively romantic and finally benignly triumphant.

Feim Ibrahimi studied with Tish Daija at Tirana Conservatory. He is said to have used folk elements to cover his real intentions as a composer. He wrote works for orchestra, ballet and choir, as well as two piano concerti and smaller piano pieces. The Vals (Waltz) softly enfolds dissonance in a piece that suggests the flickering of goldfish while Valle për piano (Dance for piano) is much more robust, ruddy-cheeked and heavy-footed.

Tonin Harapi also studied at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow. His output includes operas, works for choir and orchestra, songs, a string quartet and a piano concerto, as well as many pieces for solo piano. The three movement Sonatina follows the style-sheet with the traits of almost Mozartian innocence, gentleness and folk traits fully engaged. The Këngë mbrëmje is kindly and impressionistic - one of the most sheerly beautiful pieces in the collection. The 1966 Temë me variacione (Theme and Variations) combines the quality of classical poise and rustic innocence.

A. Komnino's Këngë polifonike (Polyphonic Song) is a guileless innocent song and is followed by the same composerís Song - a piece that is reminiscent of a gliding chiming Chopin waltz.

As Kirsten Johnson points out Daijaís little Vals (Waltz) is reminiscent of Satieís famous Gymnopédie but cast in wispy nostalgia. Tish Daija is credited with writing the first Albanian string quartet (1953) and the first Albanian ballet, Halili dhe Hajrija (Halili and Hajrija, 1963).

Baresha e Vogël (The Little Shepherdess) by Jani Papadhimitri is another lightly dancing folk-inspired piece - part musicbox and part whispered confidence.

Alberto Paparistoís Scherzo is elfin and flickeringly humorous and thereís also humour to be heard in the folksy-grotesque Val.

As with so many of his gifted contemporaries Kozma Lara studied composition at Moscowís Tchaikovsky Conservatory. He has written five piano concertos, four rhapsodies for piano and orchestra, six piano sonatas, four ballades, four albums of piano pieces, one set of theme and variations (1965) and eight piano preludes (1997). Ballade no. 2 (1983) is a grand affair much taken up with bells and having the feel of Rachmaninovís Etudes-Tableaux. The short Piano Sonata No. 2 is gruff, flowingly romantic and with that same sense of grandeur encountered in the Ballade.

Ramadan Sokoli is a much respected Albanian musicologist. His Rapsodi Shqiptare nr. 2 (1961) is discursive and exotic and here is played with a sense of sinuous fantasy.

Following a concert I gave in Tirana, the folk band at the restaurant afterwards began to play The Snowdrop (1949) by Simon Gjoni. This song is a national favourite, and the entire table of eminent musicians, including the head of the Music Faculty as well as government representatives, stopped eating and chatting and joined in full throttle to all of the verses of the song, with tears in their eyes. This passion comes through in Rapsodi Shqiptare nr. 2, an arrangement of two folk-like melodies.

Simon Gjoni studied conducting in Prague (1952-1958) and then worked at Tiranaís Opera and Ballet Theatre. He was a founder of the Albanian Radio-Television Symphony Orchestra. He wrote over two hundred songs, pieces for solo instruments, cantatas and major orchestral works (Four Albanian Symphonic Dances, the Symphonic Suite 'Albania Celebrates' and the Symphony in E-flat major). His hypnotically tolling Prelude in E minor (1965) is both melancholic and soulful. Things end on a sparkling upbeat with the folk-dance inflected Tokata (1968).

Folksy-romantic Albanian piano music from the 1960s scintillatingly revived and handsomely documented by Kirsten Johnson. Now letís hear her in the piano music of other ex-communist Balkan states. Surely there should also be an opportunity to hear her in the piano concertos of Lara, Zadeja and Harapi.

Rob Barnett


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