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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]

 

First, I am sorry to say that I somehow missed Volume 1 of Kirsten Johnson’s enterprising series of Albanian Piano Music not least because this volume is so enjoyable and fascinating. I can only suggest that anyone with a particular interest look it out, especially in the light of what I will say about volume two.

Whilst listening to and reading the very revealing and personal booklet notes, I remembered an incident in 1981 when my wife and I whilst on a boat sailing the ‘Steno Kerkira’ between Corfu and Albania in a strong wind, apparently sailed too close to the Albanian border line. We were shot at from some distance; it must be said that it was something of a shock. Since then I’ve always regarded Albania as a complete puzzle.

I was also then pondering another question which has continued to bug me, that is ‘what is the effect of political suppression on artists’. Now you may say instantly, citing Shostakovich, that it is a very bad thing that artists should constantly feel in danger of their lives, afraid to express themselves with any originality in case a government or institutional spokesman comes down castigating their work and humiliating them in public. But does this fear make the music any better to worse?

Whilst listening to this music, quite a bit of it short and arguably trivial, I could not help but wonder what might these composers have achieved if they had escaped from the tyranny of the power of the detestable Enver Hoxha (1944-1985) and his wife at an earlier date or lived elsewhere. Then I wondered what masterpieces still might await discovery. But then I thought again. Perhaps this music does indeed represent the best of these composers; perhaps the tyrannous leadership enabled them to write in a manner which suited their sensibilities and abilities. Perhaps in doing so they have added some music to the world, based as it often is on Albanian national styles, which would otherwise not have been composed. I know myself how a restriction on the composing commission can often stimulate a better and more original composition than might have been written if a ‘carte blanche’ had been allowed. Indeed, perhaps this freedom might have added yet more twelve-tone composers to the multitude if the regime in Albania had been liberal. After all, it seems that the composer and performers did not lack a solid training - sometimes in Western Europe - and certainly did not lack opportunity and, if they toed the line, financial support. Indeed the composers could be awarded titles, so ‘Artiste I popullit’ was given to Ibrahimi and Daija and the title ‘Artist I merituar’ (artist of merit) was given to Harapi and Lara.

Enough philosophizing for now. What about the music presented here?

As indicated, many of the pieces are short, some less than two minutes. However there are some more substantial ones especially those by Lara and Harapi and several pieces are inspired by the folk music of Albania.

To a certain extent you may feel, especially in the movements inspired by dances that it is almost echt Bartók. But listen further and a more delicate, less percussive, sound-world hides behind the rhythms.

Some of the intimate nationalistically-inspired pieces have a real charm and at times made me want to book the next plane to Tirana. One in particular was Papadhimitri’s ‘Little Shepherdess’ with its simple melody over a modal drone bass. What a pity that it is the only piece representing this composer. Papadhimitri clearly has a way of making a simple idea so effective.

The drawing room is not far away in the various waltzes and dances. One often feels that a street musician is lurking somewhere behind these melodies as in Harapi’s ‘Evening Song’. A strong element of popular music lies behind several of these.

Kirsten Johnson managed to interview some of the composers in the mid-1990s. The results of these interviews are mentioned in her essay. It seems that Tish Daija was the teacher of several of these composers and Cesk Zadeja used to play one publishing house off against another until he got his way. Ibrahimi often wrote outside the accepted style using unconventional rhythms and harmonies which were not in line with social realism. There are certainly folk elements in his music but he had to keep some ‘interesting’ pieces secret. When longer pieces are attempted they tend to be classically-inspired and conventional as in the Sonatina or the quite Romantic, Schumannesque ‘Theme and Variations’ by Harapi whose work ranks very high in the brief musical history of this country. There are also pieces entitled Ballade or brief Sonatas or Rhapsodies like the wonderful 2nd Albanian Rhapsody of Ramadan Sokli.

Needless to say, Johnson plays with real sympathy. I had not heard these works before - who has? - and of course have no scores. She is however a perfect advocate and a true enthusiast for this little known music.

I can honestly say that if I had not been sent this CD to review then I would have purchased it. This project is fascinating, enterprising and should be supported. More music from Albania should be given an airing. Quite apart from that it is of good quality and is immensely enjoyable.

Gary Higginson

see also review by Rob Barnett

 



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