SHQIPËRIA NË ART: Albanian Piano Music- Review by Colin Clarke

SHQIPËRIA NË ART: Albanian Piano Music Marsida Koni (pn) AULICUS 0020 (68:53)

GJONI Spring Lyric. LARA Piano Sonata No. 1. SOKOLI Ballade No. 4. HARAPI Sonatina. GASHI Preludes: No. 2; No. 4. ZACHARIAN Theme with Variation. KURTI Romanza senza parole. DAIJA 5 Pieces. KUSHTA The Tragedy Itself had Lost Its Way. SINA Perhaps

The Albanian pianist Marsida Koni presents a fascinating program of piano music from Albania. In that country, Koni is apparently considered one of the “100 Albanian Excellences”; she is, at any rate, a fine pianist. Many of these works demand real power from their interpreters, and Koni has it with vim to spare.

Take the heart-on-sleeve Spring Lyric by Simon Gjoni (1925–1991), somewhat Rachmaninoff-like in outlook with its soaring melody and flowing left hand. There are only a few pieces by Gjoni available in the catalog, so it is good to expand the list. (Pianist Kirsten Johnson on Guild has released two volumes of Albanian piano music, which includes a couple of other pieces by Gjoni for those who wish to explore further, as well as some works by other composers found on Koni’s recital.)

The more substantive Piano Sonata No. 1 by Kozma Lara (1930–2019) presents music by a composer who was also a diplomat and politician (he was accorded the title of “gifted artist”). The first movement breathes a somewhat French air, light and fresh, as is Koni’s touch in the many staccatos. Certainly, with her ability to utilize the sustaining pedal to just the right extent, Koni would be a fine interpreter of the French repertoire. (Perhaps the rarefied dignity of Ravel would suit her best; I can almost hear her Ravel Sonatine.) The fragranced central Andante tranquillo seems to bring some pentatonic elements into the mix before the rhythmic, Bartókian finale.

Albanian composer Ramadan Sokoli (1920–2018) studied in Florence, Italy before returning to his native Albania. It feels like a bit of a pity that his Second Ballade is so short (less than four minutes), but its modal harmonies hold real depths of emotion. It makes a nice contrast to the gentle world of the Sonatina by Tonin Harapi (1926–1992), a piece that seems to caress the ear. Marsida Koni’s sense of texture and phrase shape is spot-on; she was born to play this music. The free flow of melody in the central Andante against a slow left-hand oscillation is most appealing; even the helter-skelter finale holds moments of exquisite repose with its dynamic frame.

The two Preludes by Aleksander Gashi (b. 1958) couple neo-Romanticism with a quasi-improvisational aspect, while Haig Zacharian (b. 1952) offers a Theme with Variations that has real sonic beauty. Apparently Zacharian’s post-1990 works are more experimental in nature; here, though, is a beautifully proportioned set of variations, expertly and sometimes delightfully negotiated by Koni with no trace of harshness to them. There is, however, a real sense of triumphalism in the big chordal statement that rounds off the piece.

It’s interesting to hear a piece by a composer-diplomat, Lec Kurti (1884–1948), who spent much of his life in Italy; he died in Rome. His Romanza senza parole is a delicious salon miniature; the chattering chords of the first of the Five Pieces by Tish Dalija (1926–2003) brush it aside. Unfortunately, Daija is the only composer not discussed in the booklet notes; he is best known for his ballet Halili and Hajria, which was performed more than 250 times at Albania’s National Theater. Like Kozma Lara’s piece, there is a strong French aspect to Daija’s set of pieces.

The breath of contemporary music wafts over the dissonances of The Tragedy Itself had Lost Its Way by Shpëtim Kushta (b. 1946). Its sectional nature likewise offers a window into another way for Albanian music; it is stunningly performed by Koni. The final offering, an enigmatic piece called Perhaps, is by Endri Sina (b. 1967), apparently the most active of current Albanian composers. There is something gnomic about much of the musical expression here; it comes as something of a surprise when the music expands outwards, only to implode back into dissonance; it is fascinating, and compellingly delivered.

Marsida Koni also appears on the Mediterranean Soul: New Works for G-Clarinet release on Aulicus. This, Shqipëria Në Art (Albania in Art, Google Translate reliably informs me) is a fabulous disc of music that holds much to recommend it, in sterling performances and captured in fine sound. Colin Clark

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