Matteo Sommacal: The Chain Rules
Kha Records

In place of conventional tempo markings such as 'andante' and 'allegro,' Italian composer Matteo Sommacal (b. 1977) uses 'intimate,' 'pensive,' 'nocturnal,' and 'graceful' for the contemporary classical works featured on The Chain Rules. It might seem a minor detail, yet the move is consistent with the character of his music, which is unpretentious, direct, and melodically potent. This forty-two-minute presentation of Sommacal's artistry, which was recorded in Rome, Italy in 2011, is well-served by pianist Alessandro Stella, who performs alone on the three piano suites and is joined by cellist Giacomo Menna on one composition and a string quartet on two others.

Sommacal isn't your typical composer, by the way. As committed as he is to music, he's also heavily involved in the worlds of science and mathematics. Having earned an MSc in Physics and a PhD in Mathematical-Physics, Sommacal is currently employed as a Senior Lecturer in Applied Mathematics at Northumbria University in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK. The seemingly disparate sides of his personality converged when he was exposed to the mathematically precise style of minimalism, a discovery that had an understandably powerful impact on the composer. His music doesn't squarely locate itself within minimalism, however, though an occasional trace of its influence does surface. If anything, a closer analogue to Sommacal might be Michael Nyman, another composer famous for his distinctively melodic style, and in fact, the short pieces on The Chain Rules often come to abrupt conclusions in much the same way as a Nyman work often does. Without wishing to underacknowledge the differences between the composers, “The Sign of Gathering,” the first of two pieces arranged for piano and string quartet, could arguably pass for a Nyman composition.

Stella and Sommacal are an ideal match: the former plays with an elegance and refinement that complements the latter's style, and the composer's melodic material allows the pianist to expose his most emotionally expressive side. Sommacal's compositions also benefit from an approach that sees the material shorn of excess, and the tripartite structure of the piano works is also effective in the way it allows clear contrasts in mood and style to emerge from one part to the next. Unlike the dramatic tone that dominates “Exile Upon Earth II,” for example, the third part is ruminative, nostalgic even.

One of the more appealing things about The Chain Rules is its sequencing. Each of the three-part piano suites is followed by a non-solo setting, and the consistent alternation between solo and non-solo pieces gives the album presentation a clearly organized structure. Put simply, listeners with an affection for pretty chamber music should find much to like about Sommacal's material. It's easy to be won over by an emotionally stirring setting such as “The Rising Call II,” for instance, as well as feel one's heartstrings pulled by something as lovely and graceful as “In a Silent Crowd I.”

March 2015