HOMMAGE / TRAVERSA: Quasi una sonata…1,3 Red 2.1,4 Oiseaux Tristes.3 3 Poems of Stéphane Mallarmé.2,3,6 Di altri cieli for soprano & 6 instruments2,4,5 / 1Hae-sun Kang, vln; 2Livia Rado, sop; 3Ciro Longobardi, pno; 4Ensemble Prometeo; 5Marco Angius, cond; 6Michele Marelli, cl; 6Claude Hari, cello / Kairos 0015054KAI
Martino Traversa (b. 1960) was largely self-taught as a musician from the age of seven, later studying piano, composition, electronic music and jazz. In addition, he studied with Luigi Nono and has a degree in Information Technology. Quite a background! But of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, not in the information imparted or its technology, so here we go with a review.
Although Traversa’s music is clearly quite abstract, I also found it oddly moving emotionally and far less “gimmicky” than in the case of so many other modern composers. On the contrary, I felt very engaged emotionally with his Quasi una sonata… for violin and piano, which scores the violin part almost consistently in harsh two-note chords and the piano playing somewhat brusque, atonal figures. This certainly doesn’t sound like a recipe for enjoyment, particularly to all of you Schubert and Brahms lovers out there, but both the contour of the music itself, with its interesting use of dynamics which constantly change and morph, plus the fact that there is a legato feel here, held my interest long after another composer’s echt-metallic sturm und drang would have turned me off. To put it into a single phrase, other modernists hit you over the head with their edginess but Traversa entices and cajoles. To me, that’s quite a difference.
Red 2, written for violin and chamber orchestra, does have a certain edginess to it, but unlike other such composers he lets up on the pressure, introduces some lyrical (albeit atonal) themes, and actually takes the music somewhere rather than letting it stay in the same groove. Even when the tempo picks up again, the music is entirely different; it has moved on. I also found it extremely interesting how Traversa used the French horn here to simulate the sound of a human voice within the ensemble.
The piano solo Oiseaux Tristes is resolutely abstract and atonal, but once again, it is in a different style from either of the first two pieces. It is also a very dramatic piece, with strong chord interjections that break up the musical flow but also contribute to musical development. A very interesting piece!
With the 3 Poems of Stéphane Mallarmé we finally do reach a vocal piece, which I was curious to hear how he treats a human soprano. Not too surprisingly, the music, though atonal, is lyrical; in fact, if one were to take the vocal line by itself and set it to a tonal chord pattern, it would sound perfectly “normal” to most ears, but by keeping the accompanying trio of clarinet, cello and piano in a constant state of harmonic flux, using what jazz musicians call “rootless chords,” Traversa makes the music sound very modern indeed.
And yet again, Di altri cieli is entirely different: a completely abstract work that almost sounds as if it is using electronics, but it’s not—just a very edgy-sounding chamber ensemble. The vocal line is mostly syllables and not words; it is, here, just another instrument.
My sole complaint about this CD is that it is quite short, a little less than 40 minutes long. I can’t wait to hear what other surprises Martino Traversa has in store for us!
—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley
Follow me on Twitter (@Artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)