GIOVANNI ALBINI – Expressive Espressos

Italian Contemporary composer Giovanni Albini [born 1982] has written nine string quartets. A recently released CD contains all of these works. Nos. 4, 5, 6, 7 and 9 each consist of only one movement and are mostly brief at that. I intend to discuss the First Quartet and see how I go from there.

The work, which just happens to be the composer’s Opus No. 1, and in two movements, runs for a little under six minutes. It opens with a peaceful long tone, complemented by other voices which offer up a suggestion of harmony. A virtually inaudible passage slowly drifts into existence, with multiple voicings creating a delightfully introspective sound. Nearing the end, I notice the cello for the first time and it is left to fade out with a shrill violin in support.

The second movement, at 2:13 in length features a prominent cello surrounded by moody string sounds. Again, this leads to a gentle feeling which is most satisfying. It reminds me of a condensed version of John Tavener’s The Protecting Veil. The music doesn’t really last the full distance as there are eight seconds of silence at the end.

The Third Quartet, Opus No. 7, is in three brief movements. In fact so brief that I am going to ignore the structure and treat it as one movement. It begins with some violin scrapings at a low volume. There appear to be two violins at work here – one trilling and one scraping. A sense of harmony now unfolds as a descending violin phrase is constantly reworked to various accompaniments, together with much glissando. I know I said it just a few weeks ago but this music again reminds me of Andrea Tarrodi’s quartets, which I am still enjoying. Maybe it is a trend in some modern string quartets to have these slightly dramatic mood changes. A new sensation emerges, one of a conservatively harmonised passage, consisting of a repeated motif moving into a series of gentle, but stark, solo pizzicato cello tones. These give way to a sustained violin tone which is positively engrossing as it pours out glissando mutterings and concludes with a spiked note.

The Fourth Quartet, Opus No. 15, in one movement, begins where the previous work left off – I wonder if that was on purpose? A solo violin introduction this time leads to a further sense of trilling and scraping. The volume here is low as a violin descends for some time. It evokes parts of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, but with a modern, mysterious approach. The rhythm now ceases and a series of gentle, descending violin tones is sustained for a time. The end comes with a subterranean rumble of nearly inaudible scrapings.

The Seventh Quartet, Opus No. 25, also in one movement, begins quietly with one violin exploring the possibilities of various descending melodic lines. Further instruments join in and the piece fades to a pause. Now the cello provides a feeling of ascension, with the violins relegated to a supporting role. Out of this emerges another conservative passage, with an absolutely wonderful sense of expression as violin lines overlap to great effect. The dynamics gradually increase and finally one violin voice is left to conclude the work.

I hope my title was not glib – I just wanted to establish an Italian flavour – also, most of these pieces could be heard before you finished a cup of coffee. They are in essence short stories, and I am fascinated by the conservative aspects of the discussed works. There is something of the Baroque to be found here, but the emotional expression is of a modern character. I really like this music – it is a very fresh approach to the genre.

The review CD, Albini: String Quartets, performed by Quartetto Indaco and on the Brilliant Classics label is available on Amazon US and UK.

This disc is on Spotify and the quartets can be heard on earsense and YouTube.

Listenability: Quite the best miniature quartets I have heard for some time – definitely my kind of music. May not suit all tastes – please sample them…


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