Alessandro Stella: Midwinter Spring
When Giya Kancheli's music is discussed, mention is often made of his music's slow tempos but even more its extreme dynamic contrasts; it's not unusual in the Tbilisi-born composer's world for a pianississimo sequence to be followed by the jolt of a triple-forte blast. In marked contrast to that is Simple Music for Piano, a songbook published in 2009 comprising thirty-three miniatures featuring melodies written over an extended period, some dating back to the ‘60s and ‘70s, and originally composed for the stage and screen.
On Midwinter Spring, sixteen of said miniatures are performed by pianist Alessandro Stella, who earlier this year appeared on The Chain Rules by Italian composer Matteo Sommaca (also on KHA Records). Simple in form and unassuming in tone the miniatures might be, but they're a thoroughly appealing bunch, especially when rendered with such sensitivity and nuance. One imagines the pianist must have been delighted when Kancheli himself endorsed his performance, the Georgian composer stating that Stella's approach “very closely coincides with my own perception, while thoroughly eclipsing my modest abilities as interpreter.” Fleshing out the release are two complementary pieces by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt and a ten-minute meditation by Latvian Peteris Vasks.
Thoughtfully sequenced by Stella and recorded in Rome in early 2015, the sixteen Kancheli settings are rooted in themes composed for works by playwrights such as Shakespeare (King Lear), Beckett (Waiting for Godot), and Brecht (Mother Courage and Her Children). The music's gentle, minimalistic character is established by “Herio Bichebo” (from Earth, This Is Your Son) at the album's outset, and the tone carries over into the equally delicate music that follows. Stella plays the material with a Bill Evans-like sensitivity that imbues these pensive reflections with grace; speaking of Brecht, a hint of Satie seeps into the theme from The Caucasian Chalk Circle, whereas the Mother Courage and Her Children piece exudes a dreamy, sentimental character reminiscent of Nino Rota's Amarcord. Who would have imagined that a Kancheli piece could invite comparison to the standard “I'll Be Seeing You,” but that's exactly what happens when Stella tackles the theme from When Almonds Blossomed.Pärt's represented on the recording by Für Alina and the comparatively playful Variationen zur Gesundung von Arinuschka (Variations for the Healing of Arinushka), the first compositions he composed in his now-familiar “tintinnabuli” (Latin for ‘little bells') style, which emphasizes extreme reduction, and at album's end, the stark austerity and atmospheric purity of Vasks's Baltâ ainava - White Scenery (Winter) reinforces the wintry theme of the project. Adding to Midwinter Spring's appeal is its concision, with forty-two minutes of music feeling like a perfect running time for a collection of this kind.