Friday, 20 March 2020

A seductive mix-tape: pianist Alessandro Viale's Minimal Works

Minimal Works; Alessandro Viale; KHA
Minimal Works; Alessandro Viale; KHA
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 18 March 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Italian pianist Alessandro Viale's fascinatingly eclectic mix of composers, all drawn together under the minimal banner, and creating a seductive mix-tape

The Italian pianist Alessandro Viale has produced a new disc, Minimal Works on KHA which draws together music by Philip Glass, Alessandra Celletti, Max Richter, David Lang, Peter Maxwell Davies, Yann Tiersen, Wim Mertens, Olafur Arnalds, John Cage, Gyorgy Ligeti, Nils Frahm, Richard David James (Aphex Twin), Lera Auerbach, George Pelecis, Matteo Sommacal, and Arvo Part, moving between music for solo piano, music for piano duet with Assunta Cavallari and music for violin and piano with Rebecca Raimondi.

On of the fascinating things about the disc is that the works are all relatively short with Arvo Part's Spiegel im Spiegel being by far the longest on disc, giving us a very different idea of minimalism to such iconic works as Terry Riley's In C, recordings of which last anything from 20 to 80 minutes. Here is minimalism write small, and curated into a sequence which forms a seductive mix -tape-like sequence. The music moves between the exploration of textures in process music to using minimal-like sequences as the backdrop to more lyrical material. And along the way, we can savour the pun in the disc's title, Minimal Works.


The first work on the disc is Philip Glass' Truman Sleeps, originally from the film The Truman Show, this is more song-like and quite a long way from the Glass of Einstein on the Beach. Next comes The Golden Fly Four by the Italian pianist and composer Alessandra Celletti, a delicate miniature of a piece again with lyrical melody over

Max Richter's The Twins (Prague) is for piano duet from his disc Memoryhouse. Here we have, perhaps, a more traditional minimalist feel with just a series of evolving textures with Richter using the two pianists to create a greater sense of depth in the music. With David Lang's Light Moving we change to violin and piano, and here the textures are distinctly perkier with Lang interweaving two rather jazzy instrumental parts.

Peter Maxwell Davies' Snow Cloud, Over Lochan is the shortest piece on the disc, perhaps not strictly minimal at all it evokes Scottish folk-sing without directly quoting. With Yann Tiersen's delightful Comptine d'une Autrre Ete: L'apres-midi we move almost to the café chantant.

Belgian composer Wim Mertens' Mains returns us to piano duet with a vividly driven series of rhythmic textures, a terrific piece.

Tomorrow's Song by Icelandic multi-instrumentalist and producer Oalfur Arnalds is another song-like piece, developing from quite spare intimacy. The third of John Cage's Six Melodies is played by violin and piano, and is almost folk-like in its sound world, an entirely intriguing work. The seventh of Gyorgy Ligeti's Musica ricercata, 'Cantabile, molto legato' sets a lyrical melody against a vividly fast piano ostinato. Familiar by the German composer and record producer Nils Frahm manages to draw together the fascinating minimalist textures into a piece which has melody embedded in it, without ever quite being explicit. Avril 14th by Richard David James (also known as Aphex Twin) mixes simplicity with some intriguing rhythmic gestures.

Prelude No. 15 by Russian composer Lera Auerbach features the high and almost not-there violin playing of Rebecca Raimondi along with an atmospheric piano part from Viale.

Georgs Pelecis is a Latvian composer and musicologist, his Piece No. 5 returns us to the hauntingly melodic. The Forgotten Strain, by Matteo Sommacal, who is both a composer and a mathematical physicist, is for piano duet and starts with extremely spare, evocative textures with the sense of each note being placed carefully in space, before applying other layers over these textures to striking effect.

The final work on the disc, Part's Spiegel im Spiegel needs no introduction and here receives a fine performance with Raimondi drawing us in with a near vibrato-less aetherial feel to the violin part. This is definitely one of those performances with just the right amount of clarity, a world away from self-indulgence.


The disc has no liner notes, the performers want you to simply sit back and listen to the music. As a mix-tape like sequence, this works very well as the pieces move between a variety of styles and moods, some lyrical, some less so, but always with the sense somewhere of textures built up from repeated units. Whilst all the music on the disc can be called minimalist, its sheer diversity and variety makes you ponder and wonder about.

The performances throughout are excellent, and not matter the apparent simplicity of the music Viale, Raimondi and Cavallari really draw you in. The result is a seductive mix-tape which hides some genuinely intriguing complexity.

Philip Glass (1937) - Truman Sleeps
Alessandra Celletti (1966) - The Golden Fly Four
Max Richter (1966) - The Twins (Prague) piano duet
David Lang (1957) - Light moving violin and piano
Peter Maxwell Davies (1934 - 2016) - Snow Cloud, over Lochan
Yann Tiersen (1970) - Comptine d'un autre eté. L'après-midi
Wim Mertens (1953)- 4 Mains
Ólafur Arnalds (1986) - Tomorrow's Song
John Cage (1912 - 1992) - Six Melodies: No.3
György Ligeti (1923 - 2006) - Musica ricercata: No.7, Cantabile, molto legato
Nils Frahm (1982) - Familiar
Aphex Twin (Richard James) (1971) - Avril 14th
Lera Auerbach (1973) - Prelude No. 15 (Op. 46) Adagio sognando
Georgs Pelēcis (1947) - Pieces N. 5
Matteo Sommacal (1977) - The Forgotten Strains
Arvo Pärt (1935) - Spiegel im Spiegel
Alessandro Viale (piano)
Rebecca Raimondi (violin)
Assunta Cavallari (piano)
Recorded 5-7 January 2018, Abbey Rocchi Studios, Rome, Italy
KHA  KHA018 1CD [42.42]

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