Notable in 2011: Duo Gazzana debuts on ECM (CD Review)

For the rest of 2011, among our coverage will be “notable” recordings, highlighting some of our favorites for the year that we haven’t as yet covered on File Under ?.

Duo Gazzana

Five Pieces: works by Takemitsu, Hindemith, Janacek, and Silvestrov

ECM New Series CD

Despite its already impressively deep catalog, Manfred Eicher’s ECM still finds new perspectives and new interpreters to present on the imprint’s recordings. Sisters violinist Nastascia Gazzana and pianist Raffaella Gazzana have been performing together since the 1990s. But they waited until 2011 to make their recorded debut, in a chamber recital CD. Surprisingly, they are the first Italian chamber group to perform on an ECM release!

The disc features works by four different Twentieth century composers, all of whom are displayed in works that operate from the  more traditional side of the stylistic spectrum. Even Toru Takemitsu’s Distance de fée, from 1951, early in his catalog, displays the composer’s affinity for Impressionism overtly, with only hints of the experiments and polystylism to which he would later turn. Paul Hindemith’s E major Violin Sonata, cast in two movements, features a buoyant allegro movement followed by a sober langsam tinged with melancholy, which abruptly shifts to a brilliant finale. Both the piece, and its interpreters, are able to adjust to these rapid changes of mood without it ever seeming unnatural. Instead we are given a succinct yet complete account of a sonata’a narrative arc – in exquisite miniature. It’s worth mentioning how the shifts in timbre elicited by Nastascia are luminously detailed throughout this work.

Inspired by the clangor and rigors of WWI and begun near the outset of that conflict, Leos Janacek’s Sonata for violin and piano is filled with its own poignant twists and turns. Understandably, it displays considerably more angularity and angst than the Hindemith, and both sisters really dig in to its brash gestures while providing a detailed account of its nuanced articulations ( an aside: both pieces were programmed side by side in 1923, with none other than Hindemith performing the violin part).

But wait, there are four composers: why’s the disc called “Five Pieces?” It’s the title of the last group on the CD, a set of violin/piano duos by Valentin Silvestrov. Although there is certainly an affinity between some of the Eastern European folk inflections found in both the Janacek and Silvestrov works, there is an even wider reaching retrospective quality in the Silvestrov that seems to encompass all of the styles presented on the CD. Indeed, it mines many of the veins of tonally oriented 20th century music, providing an elegiac and Neo-romantic viewpoint that never confuses genuine emotional resonance with bald sentimentality. Raffaella brings out a warmly resonant quality from the pieces’ harmonic progressions, all the while supporting with careful balance and phrasing the long-lined legato playing of Nastascia. And while one can find many grander musical statements in Silvestrov’s oeuvre, he has distilled some of his most affecting music in these five miniatures. Indeed, the lilting Intermezzo and Barcarolle movements are truly magical microcosms.

Displaying consummate musicality, featuring a fascinating program of repertoire that should be heard more widely, with sumptuous sonics to boot, Duo Gazzana’s debut is one of my favorite discs of 2011. Let’s hope the Gazzana sisters get right back into the recording studio with Mr. Eicher in 2012!

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