Tuesday 8 February 2022

In the midst of things: chamber music by Karl Fiorini

Karl Fiorini In the Midst of Things - piano and chamber music; Charlene Farrugia, Dmitri Ashkenazy, Rebecca Raimondi Stefan Kropfitsch; Grand Piano

Karl Fiorini In the Midst of Things - piano and chamber music; Charlene Farrugia, Dimitri Ashkenazy, Rebecca Raimondi Stefan Kropfitsch; Grand Piano

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 7 February 2022 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
A retrospective of piano and chamber music by Karl Fiorini, Maltese by birth, European by instinct

In the Midst of Things, on the Grand Piano label, is a retrospective of piano and chamber music from the last 20 years by composer Karl Fiorini, featuring his Trio Lamina for clarinet, violin and piano, Two piano etudes, Piano Trio, Piano Sonata and In the Midst of Things for clarinet, violin, cello and piano, performed by Charlene Farrugia (piano), Dimitri Ashkenazy (clarinet), Rebecca Raimondi (violin) and Stefan Kropfitsch (cello).

Maltese by birth, Karl Fiorini studied in Malta with Charles Camillieri and Joseph Vella, and in London with Diana Burrell and Michael Zev Gordon. He founded the Valletta International Spring Festival in 2007, and now lives in Paris. His output includes two violin concertos, a symphony, opera and song, as well as chamber music. The works on this disc span nearly 20 years, and he describes them as all being composed during transitional moments in his life, both personal and artistic.

The disc begins with the earliest work on the disc, Trio Lamina for clarinet, violin and piano. Dating from 2002, when he was still studying in Malta, the work was his first experimenting with new ideas of structure and harmony, and the work is crafted out of successive smaller sections. In a single movement but with six sub-sections which describe an arch structure inspired by Bartok. The work begins with a melancholic clarinet solo answered by jazzy piano chords, and then suddenly we are off and the music launches into something akin to tango, fast, exciting and colourful, full of jagged fragments. Throughout we sense the imaginative way that Fiorini creates a dialogue for the three instruments. In the middle comes something of a cadenza for clarinet and violin, leading to something rather eerie yet with hints of blues about it to. A highly rhythmic passage leads back into the tango-esque music from the opening. A fascinating and imaginative work.

Next comes his two concert studies, Les Âmes effleurées (2007) and Reflets flous (2008). Though dating from the end of his time in London, they are very French in style and reflect his engagement with French culture. The first is highly atmospheric, expressively lyrical but with an edge to the harmonies and a definite feeling of developing drama. The second is very, very quiet, gently evocative at first before growing stronger, the quietness pervades at the end. Structurally the two are complex, based on the Fibonacci sequence yet this is not apparent on the surface.

The Piano Trio dates from 2005 (when he was in London) and continues the structural experiments from Trio Lamina, again his structural methods are complex but not immediately apparent. The work is in seven sections and we begin with a strong cello solo punctuated with wisps of music from the other two instruments. Developing a yearning quality, the music moves to something fast and rhythmic with a sense of drama and a spikiness to the rhythms, but the opening mood returns leading to sections that are sometimes dramatic and sometimes eerily haunting, before finally ending in Fiorini's fast, jazzy mode.

With the Piano Sonata we move to 2017. Again in a single movement, separated into three sections, fast, slow, fast. The piano writing is technically complex and the work opens with a grand gesture which develops into a highly strenuous movement. The central slow section is more intimate, but the piano writing is still powerful, and for the final section we return to strenuous vigour.

The final work on the disc is the most recent, In the Midst of Things for clarinet, violin, cello and piano, dating from 2019. This is in four independent movements. The resulting piece moves from quietly intense, but still rather jazzy, to something more dramatic, then a movement where the material is lyrical but with an edge to it that creates an eerie feeling. The final movement moves between vividly fast and calm moments. Throughout, Fiorini's writing is powerful with a strong and imaginative use of his instruments, including extensive solo sections and a willingness to pare textures down where necessary.

Many of the works on the disc feature lots of notes, with an edge and sharpness to the harmonies but allied to a lyrical impulse which makes the music rather expressionist at times. The performances are exemplary with all four instrumentalists making light and sympathetic work of Fiorini's often challenging writing.

Karl Fiorini (born 1979) - Trio Lamina (2002) [10:04]
Karl Fiorini - Two Piano Etudes (2007, 2005) [9:56]
Karl Fiorini - Piano Trio (2005) [12:18]
Karl Fiorini - Piano Sonata (2017) [10:45]
Karl Fiorini - In the Midst of Things (2019) [16:21]
Charlene Farrugia (piano)
Dimitri Ashkenazy (clarinet)
Rebecca Raimondi (violin)
Stefan Kropfitsch (cello)
Recorded 23–25 August 2019, 19 January 2020, Tonzauber – Studio, Konzerthaus, Vienna, Austria
GRAND PIANO GP880 1CD [59:53]

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