Alberto Bologni Makes “Dedications” in New Pieces

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DEDICATIONS / SEABOURNE: Threads. FRIBBINS: Sonata. BRUNO: Preludio e Fuga. FAVALI: Astor and Me. REBORA: di – versi – in – versi. RIGACCI: Lucrezia. SENANES: Sinfonía for 4 Strong Strings / Alberto Bologni, vln / Sheva Contemporary SH-184

This strange yet wonderful disc, scheduled for release in February, introduces a new recorded work by the superb British composer Peter Seabourne as well as six other new pieces by lesser-known writers. Italian violinist Alberto Bologni, who studied at the Conservatorio Cherubini in Florence and subsequently earned an artist’s diploma at the Rotterdam Conservatoire, combines the styles of the Italian, German-Hungarian and Russian schools of violin playing, and of course the last-named is strongly influenced by the French.

Bologni shoots right out of the gate with the exciting and brilliant Threads, a five-movement composition that exploits the full range of the instrument. This was written for both Bologni and Litsa Tunnah, both of whom have played Seabourne’s works in the past. One of the most unusual pieces in this suite is the second, titled “Berceuse,” which alternates between very high, sustained “whistle tones” on the violin and pizzicato passages that somehow fit together and make sense. By contrast, the next piece, “Shimmering,” consists of fairly conventional arpeggios in eighths set in unconventional melodic patterns with shifting harmonies. The final two movements, particularly the concluding “Vivo,” are unexpected and imaginative, like so much of Seabourne’s music. Bologni’s tone, bright and brilliant, is coupled with an impulsive energy that infuses everything he plays. You can tell that he really likes this music!

Following this is the violin sonata of Peter Fribbins, composed for his wife Maria who is half Faroese. This explains the use of a folk song from the Faroe Islands, Sigmunds kvæði, in the first movement; it’s a strange tune, alternating between conventionally melodic and odd modal lines. The sonata was premiered last year (2016) by Bologni in a benefit concert for victims of the central Italian earthquake. The pizzicato second-movement “Scherzo,” ironically, reminded me of the Seabourne piece previously heard—not a criticism, because it’s interesting and well written, and I doubt that Fribbins had any idea what Seabourne was up to when he wrote it. The third-movement “Pavane” is wonderfully lyrical, using unusual chord positions to enhance rather than ruin its effectiveness, while the last movement is a brief, more modern-sounding “Toccata.”

Giuseppe Bruno’s Preludio e Fuga, like so many modern pieces that pay tribute to J.S. Bach, use the notes of his last name (the “h” being the German designation for B-flat) because, as Bruno puts it, “of the great expressive potential inherent in its lying within a minor third.” The “Fuga” was composed first, with the “Preludio” written second, which gave Bruno the opportunity to link certain motifs more easily. It’s a strange-sounding fugue, however, due to the unusual way in which the harmonies lie. An excellent piece.

This is followed by Astor and Me, an homage to Astor Piazzolla by Federico Favali. Like several modern composers who base their work on Piazzolla, Favali stretches the tango form to entirely new limits, using the older composer’s Inverno Porteño with entirely different rhythms and a redistribution of note-values so that at times it is unrecognizable. Once again, Bologni’s playing is beautifully controlled technically and imbued with emotional energy, making this piece sound even better by virtue of these attributes.

Possibly the most avant-garde piece on this disc, Carla Rebora’s three-movement di – versi – in – versi is described in the booklet as “part of a series of pieces born of research into the formal, aesthetic and evocative relationship between poetic genres and musical forms. In this piece, the focus is the stanza isolata, a form of poetry typical of the C14th dolce stil nuovo.” In less technical terms, the music is comprised of short fragments that almost sound isolated, except that Rebora finds ways to tie them togther. There are moments where this works coherently and others where the fragments sound more isolated. By contrast, Pietro Rigacci’s chaconne Lucrezia is somewhat more conventional in its form if quite surprising in its turns of phrase which are anything but.

We close out this package of “dedications” with Sinfonia for Four Strong Strings by Argentinian composer Gabriel Senanes. The composer claims that the title of this “piece has little connection with its music: it is obviously a play on words, or two: ‘for four,’ and then ‘strong strings.’ I also like the idea of a symphony for a single instrument. And this idea completes the title, which has sense only in English and looks funny to me.” The music is esentially laid out like a symphony structurally, and although it is more tonal in nature than many of its predecessors on this disc it is no less well written. Senanes has a strong sense of construction and thus keeps the violin within certain boundaries, using strong downbow attacks on the first beat of each bar as a simulation of a full orchestra in the first movement. In the second, the strong lyrical quality of the solo line makes the listener imagine an orchestra behind the violin. The third-movement “Tango” is not really “just a tango,” as the composer claims, but a re-imagining of that native Argentinian dance, while the concluding “Rock and Ball” is a furious piece set in rock rhythm…something I never thought I’d hear a classical violinist attempt to play.

This is surely a remarkable disc and one of the finest violin recitals of any music I’ve heard in the past two years.

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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