Monday, 28 September 2015

Pianist, Alessandro Viale shows consummate skill whilst never losing sight of the inner voice that runs through Peter Seabourne’s compelling piano work, Steps Volume 5: Sixteen Scenes before a Crucifixion, a new release from Sheva Contemporary

British composer, Peter Seabourne was born in 1960 and studied at Clare College, Cambridge and York University, reading music, composition with Robin Holloway and then a doctorate in composition with David Blake.

Two national prizes and several selections by the Society for the Promotion of New Music  led to festival performances and a London's South Bank performance. However, Seabourne came to dislike, not only his own work but also the wider contemporary music world with which he found less and less common ground.

After 1989 Seabourne stopped composing altogether until twelve years later when he began to write again, finding a new sense of direction and voice. Since 2001 his work has received awards in Finland, Bulgaria, Ireland and the USA. His music has been played widely in Europe and the Americas with commissions coming from Brazil, Germany, Italy, UK, Norway and the Czech Republic.  

Sheva Contemporary, a subsidiary label of the Italian record company Sheva Collection have recorded a number of discs of Seabourne’s music including volumes 2 and 4 of his series of piano works entitled Steps.

Now from Sheva Collection comes Peter Seabourne’s Steps Volume 5: Sixteen Scenes before a Crucifixion featuring pianist Alessandro Viale.

SH 136
Italian pianist, Alessandro Viale (b.1986) studied piano, composition and orchestral conducting under Walter Fischetti, Claudio Perugini, Francesco Vizioli and Enza Caiazzo. He studied chamber music at the Music School of Fiesole with N.Gutman, P.Vernikov, A.Lucchesini and B.Canino and now carries on an intense activity of chamber music in various formations, performing in major concert halls and seasons.

The Passiontide painting of Caravaggio provided the catalyst for Peter Seabourne’s Steps Vol. 5: Sixteen Scenes before a Crucifixion. However, Seabourne states that this piano cycle was never intended to be directly related to Caravaggio’s painting or specifically refer to the Christian passion story. More it is a general examination of the suffering of all those over whom hangs some future threat of pain.

In sixteen short movements this work, which lasts well over fifty minutes, opens with a movement marked Numb - tolling – distant, where a tolling in the right hand is underlaid by chords. A dissonance is developed as the music is developed with occasional little questioning phrases. Soon the music becomes more dramatic, eventually reaching a climax with harsh resonant chords. However, it returns to its original nature with the distant tolling of bells around which the left hand plays a line, before the tolling is allowed to fade.

II is marked Driving - relentless with Viale immediately bringing a fierce, dramatic, driven theme, weaving some fine lines around the insistently driven motif. Eventually the music quietens a little, though still driven with the music weaving some terrific passages, angry chords bringing about the end.

III Gentle - berceuse-like comes as balm after the second movement, as a gentle theme is picked out with some very fine harmonies. Again little quizzical phrases gently disturb the flow before a gentle coda. IV Flightly - enigmatic - delicate - fragile has a forward rolling nature, occupying the upper register with trills and flights of fancy, bringing a sense of lightness and freedom. Seabourne creates some lovely textures, quite florid at times with occasional hints of Debussy.

Short phrases open V Grave - ominous marked ‘very dry’ bringing a feeling of expectation. The music very slowly develops breaking out dramatically but soon returning to its short phrases which now become more dramatic. The music rises again but quietens to a slow hesitant end. VI Dancing - hesitant brings a little staccato dancing motif, a nervous dance that still seems unsure of itself due to an underlying anxiousness.

With VII Mesto – semplice – cantabile, a melancholy theme slowly moves ahead, not without hesitance, becoming occasionally quite introverted and later a little impassioned before quietening. VIII Troubled - rhapsodic might just sum up the duality of Selbourne’s writing here, a fast moving piece shot through with a melody that is often almost hidden in the texture. It retains a feeling of uncertainty before it slows for the coda.

IX Vicious - brutal opens with a dramatic motif interrupted by staccato phrases. It develops into a complex dense texture, increasingly violent and dynamic before quietening a little with short phrases. The music soon takes off again with an incessant motif before a violent sudden end. X Lento semplice brings a slow melody that seems to pull itself wearily forward with the use of pedal adding to the rather hollow textures. It builds centrally to an impassioned peak before falling back to a melancholy section and a coda that seems to give in to quiet resignation and hopelessness.

XI Lightly dancing but demonic is exactly what the marking describes though with more than a touch of menace. This brilliantly written movement pulls the listener along, rising and falling in dynamics as the lighter theme seems to dance around the more dramatic theme. It is the lighter dancing theme that brings about the coda. XII Meandering - lamenting - increasingly crushing opens with a simple theme against which there are occasional growling chords.  This is a slow but determined theme that slowly increases in forcefulness with harsh dramatic chords in the left hand. The forward moving melody tries to fight back but the piece ends on a lower chord.

XIII Slightly hurried - uneasy moves ahead even faster, another seemingly unstoppable theme, yet is interrupted by more hesitant moments as well as rhythmic changes as it progresses, causing a kind of unsettling effect. XIV Subdued - murmuring brings a tense, insistent theme with a slightly rocking motion. Again there is that intense feeling of expectation, as though something dreadful is about to break out. The music rises higher with a sense of hopeless pleading before the rocking theme leads to the quiet coda.

XV Violent brings the climax of the whole work as a violent passage erupts around which a repeated motif is played with more fortississimo chords often offset to create instability.  Soon a quieter, yet frantic, staccato motif appears around which the main theme runs. More chords are hammered out before suddenly the last heavy chord is allowed to fade slowly away. With XVI Very still - spacious – questioning a tremolando theme is underlaid by deeper mournful chords. This is music of desolation and hopelessness. Soon a sudden fierce chord heralds a more violent, desperate passage. The music soon falls back before building again, violently. All quietens to a rather uneasy passage, with the tremolando motif predominating over low chords which end the work – unresolved.

This is compelling music. So effectively descriptive is this music that I found myself using the same descriptive words that I later read in the composer’s notes. Alessandro Viale tackles the often extreme virtuosity of this work with consummate skill whilst never losing sight of the inner voice that runs through it.

This new release is very well recorded at the Sala Casella, Accademia Filarmonica Romana, Rome, Italy and there are informative notes from the composer.

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