Peter SEABOURNE (b.1960)
Peter FRIBBINS (b.1969)
Giuseppe BRUNO (b.1961)
Preludio e Fuga [4:56]
Federico FAVALI (b.1981)
Astor and Me [4:11]
Carla REBORA (b.1973)
di – versi – in – versi [6:10]
Pietro RIGACCI (b.1954)
Gabriel SENANES (b.1956)
Sinfonia for Four Strong Strings [12:59]
Alberto Bologni (violin)
rec. 2017, Sheva Studios, Lessona, Italy
SHEVA CONTEMPORARY SH184 [63:17]
Beyond the works of J. S. Bach and Eugène Ysaÿe, the solo violin repertory is decidedly short on worthwhile works for public consumption rather than private exercise. This CD presents seven new works for solo violin by seven different living composers. Some feel more at ease with the genre than others, some look to the past, while others present unequivocally 21st century ideas, but what combines them all is a clear understanding of the ability of a single violin to stand on its own merits. The days of experimentation with sound and of unconventional playing techniques seem to have passed, and while all this music inhabits a sound world, which is very much of our time, none of these composers attempts to do anything other than showcase the violin in its traditional image of a four-stringed instrument, either played by a bow or plucked by a finger. If proof were needed that there is still plenty of mileage in a traditional analogue musical instrument, played by a solo performer using wholly conventional playing techniques, here it is.
There is a boxy, rather homespun quality to the recorded sound, which at first is a little difficult to come to terms with, but Alberto Bologni’s committed and tremendously absorbing playing soon overcomes issues of sound, and his credentials as a performer of new music are quickly apparent with performances, which go way beyond the mere technical and offer convincing and very personal interpretations of this repertory. Each composer has provided their own booklet notes on their music (in English, Italian and German), and while they are all immensely useful in allowing us to get to grips with the ideas behind music, the music itself is, in almost every case, highly communicative on its own terms.
Peter Seabourne’s Threads carries over its five terse movements a level of agitated nervousness which, with few moments of respite, can quickly pall. The composer’s note suggests that the work “requires the violinist to be a one man orchestra”. Certainly it requires the violinist to sustain a high level of intense concentration and to handle some high-octane technical demands, but if by “one man orchestra” the implication is that the work is either colourful or wide-ranging in its scope, then I find this an odd statement. There seems nothing in the way of unusual technical demands, and what is on show here is not so much of musical interest as of technical value on uniquely violin terms. It’s a work which revolves around a limited emotional core – anxiety, nervous energy, stress – and exhibits the more aggressive and pointed aspects of violin tone.
With the lyrical opening of Peter Fribbins’s Sonata we not only encounter a more expansive and generous frame of mind, but we hear something with a broad and attractive expressive and emotional spectrum. Fribbins is self-confident and obviously very comfortable with the solo violin medium, and while he employs various playing techniques, he does not use them as an end in themselves, but to serve a musical message, which is both intriguing and affecting. That it was written for his wife may well account for the generosity of spirit and warmth of expression in the music. It certainly accounts for some of the musical content; Fribbins has celebrated her Faroe Islands origins by incorporating a traditional Faroese folk melody in the first movement. He counters that with a sprightly, pizzicato Scherzo, and with the third movement he recalls the melancholy character of the old English Pavane. The final Toccata is a fine showpiece, which I can imagine could easily take on a life of its own in the world of concert encores. Fribbins’s note alludes to a personal code within the precise number of bars for each movement, but chooses not to divulge its significance. Just as well, for on its own terms, this music stands as a very useful addition to the solo violin repertory, which transcends any non-musical symbolism.
As the tile would seem to suggest, Giuseppe Bruno’s Preludio e Fuga is in homage to Bach, and apart from a more dissonant musical language, there are clear relationships between this work and Bach’s own writing for solo violin. A poised and dispassionate Prelude, beginning and ending on a monotone, moves into a Fugue which, whilst based on the notes B-A-C-H, is possibly more of a free fantasy than a strict contrapuntal exercise. Bruno himself suggests in his note that he is “humbly following the example of the glorious works by Hindemith and Bartók”, yet exceedingly idiomatically written for the violin, it has plenty of originality and, like the Fribbens, deserves a place in the repertory for both its masterly writing for the instrument and its musical quality.
Also clearly indicating the composer in whose honour the work is written, Astor and Me finds Federico Favali taking one of Astor Piazzolla’s tangos apart and restructuring it as a series of often jagged fragments. Occasionally you can hear Piazzolla (once you know it’s there), but as Favali himself so picturesquely puts it in his note, “some parts of Invierno Porteño function like an underground river, occasionally surfacing only to sink again after a while”. For the most part, this is a work of considerable inventiveness and one which combines considerable virtuosity with absorbing musical ideas.
Carla Rebora’s di – versi –in – versi is, like its title, the most obviously non-traditional piece here. Fragments of ideas, delivered in an almost pointillist manner by abrupt bursts of virtuosity are held together across three defined but integrated sections by a continual sense of forward direction. The first of these I imagine could sound, in a less persuasive performance, more like a series of technical gestures than a clear musical entity. However, Bologni does a very fine job in crafting Rebora’s unconnected ideas into a coherent whole, and with the second section, made up largely of a series of double stopped trills, he convinces me that this is music worth delving into more deeply. For her part, Rebora points to the music having derived its form from a 14th century poetic device and that its origins lay in her “research into the formal, aesthetic and evocative relationship between poetic genres and musical forms”.
Ideas of femininity lie behind Lucrezia, one of a series of 26 pieces Pietro Rigacci composed for various solo instruments each based on a different woman’s name and each depicting a specific aspect of femininity Rigacci associates with the name. He writes that Lucrezia (an “aristocratic name”) was written for “the prince of instruments” and “describes a femininity entrapped by rigid behavioural rules, an unattainable beauty, set on a pedestal surrounded by a void”. The music supports that vision magnificently, and in particular this performance emphasises the poise and almost arrogant detachment Rigacci’s “unattainable beauty”.
It may have lost something in translation (although the composer does say it only works in English), but the “play on words” which Argentinean composer Gabriel Senanes suggests is behind the title of his Sinfonia for Four Strong Strings seems, beyond the alliteration, vague. He suggests that the title is only there for the wordplay and that it has “little connection with its music”. Perhaps he is playing with us, for the very start, a strong and assertive piece of highly idiomatic violin writing, not only presents strong strings, but is clearly in the manner of what we might expect from the first movement of a piece called Sinfonia. Optimistic, forthright and assertive, with a clear sense of structure and some superbly balanced ideas, this opening Minué Antique is followed by a movement which once again resorts to an alliterative title. “Vidala Vida” is built around a sad Argentinean folk song, eloquently and at times passionately expounded by the violin, expansively ranging across its entire pitch range. Somehow it would not be a post-Piazzolla Argentinean composer without a Tango and we have one as the third movement. As Senanes writes, it is “just a tango, and a very classical one”. I might add that it is also a very effective one beautifully written for the solo violin with no attempt to imitate or evoke any other kind of instrumental timbre. In keeping with the Sinfonia’s deliberately archaic structure, the final movement is a brisk and exciting finale. Written specifically for Bologni, this is a movement which beautifully balances virtuoso display with sensitive musical ideas.