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Stefano GERVASONI (b. 1962)
Le Pré
Prés - first book - for piano (2008-2010) [10:45]
Sonatinexpressive - for violin and piano (2012) [14:55]
Prés - second book - for piano (2011-2013) [9:41]
Luce ignota della sera (d'après Schumann) - for piano and live electronics (2015) [4:45]
Prés - third book - for piano (2014-2015) [15:56]
Adagio ghiacciato (d'après Mozart) - for violin and prepared piano (2011) [4:11]
Aldo Orvieto (piano)
Saori Furukawa (violin)
Alvise Vidolin (live electronics)
Rec. 2014-15, Conservatorio Statale di Musica "Cesare Pollini", Padova, Italy
WINTER & WINTER 910 238-2 [60:26]

Stefano Gervasoni is a well-established composer on the European continent, though he may not be quite as familiar a name even in contemporary music circles in the UK. He was steered towards serious composition by Luigi Nono in 1980, and he has studied with György Ligeti among others, attending courses at IRCAM and the like, and is now an award-winning and frequently performed artist and professor at the Paris Conservatoire. Echoes of Ligeti's 'hobbling' rhythms can be heard here and there, as is there a more direct tribute to Luigi Nono and other literary references outlined in the liner notes.

Le Pré is a catch-all title for a trilogy of 'books' for piano. Gervasoni plays with this title as he does with his musical material in each cycle, summing up the pieces as "inexPREssive... or a PREfix (PRE-something): before the exPREssion, before being exPREssed..." and further. Looking at his website you can follow the scores and see how the notes are often organised onto multiple staves, or where the visual relationship between gestures and tonal relationships are given clarity even if your score reading is limited.

With many if not all of these pieces there is an artful complexity that seeks to explore childishness, "pieces for children played by adults... infancy and apparent simplicity." Some of the pieces are marked as being scored for toy piano, though in this case a normal piano is used throughout.

This is abstract, modern music, but with a remarkably wide range of expressive means and associations. There are little moments that are unmistakably jazzy, and pieces of dizzying virtuosity taken in their stride by pianist Aldo Orvieto. Conventional beauty is largely absent from the Près cycles, but again we are frequently wrong-footed by moments of consonance. The transformation pieces are all the more of a surprise as a result, and Luce ignota della sera (d'après Schumann) is a real treat, taking the atmosphere of Schumann and filtering the piano sound through the distortion and elongated decay of electronic processing. The link to Schumann is further developed in Pressenti in the third Prés book, but in this case more as if a team of naughty children has been let loose on the piano.

Adagio ghiacciato (d'après Mozart) for violin and prepared piano takes us via Mozart's easy piece for glass harmonica into a world that inevitably conjures the spirit of John Cage, the notes of the piano sounding as if they have been stuffed into a box of velvet-covered springs, the violin adding little countermelodies and fragments of commentary in flageolet, "a silent violin with a metal practice mute."

If you know and appreciate the Winter & Winter ethos then the playful character of part of this album will make it an easy choice. This playfulness is however created and delivered with a powerful seriousness, and much of this music is of an intellectual rigour that is pretty demanding of the listener. These demands always deliver their rewards, for me especially if harvested by following the performances along with the scores. If you are up for an unusual première of some highly significant new piano music alongside some fascinating manipulations of historical repertoire, then this is a fabulous place to do your exploring.

Dominy Clements



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