1. Dasma e Sakos (1998)
(Sako’s Wedding) 7:16
2. Dubel Valle (1996)
(Double Dance) 5:00
3. Një vërshëllimë ere (1998)
(Souffle du Vent / A breath of Wind) 6:04
4. Kënga e thyer (1993)
(The Broken Song) 12:33
5. Karusel strukture (1993/revised 1998)
(Carousel structure or Merry-go-Round) 8:22
6. Gjeneral Gramafoni
(General Gramophone) 3:37
7. Dialog Liturgjik (1994)
(Liturgical Dialogue) 14:21
The Broken Song
From one of the least-known corners
of Europe comes some of the most
evocative new music of recent times.
The Broken Song is the title of the second volume of
music by the Albanian composer Aleksandër Peçi. As
this small country, on the edge of the Adriatic Sea and
the Balkans, rebounds from one of the most devastating of the
Eastern Europe communist dictatorships, it has revitalized and
modernized its rich cultural life. This is perhaps most movingly
symbolized by Peçi’s Liturgical Dialogue which mixes the spiritual
poetry of Albania’s great medieval poet, Pjetër Budi – spoken
in the sonorous voice of one of Albania’s greatest actors and
sung by solo and choral voices -- with the voice of the most
famous Albanian of modern times: a recording of Mother Teresa
speaking in English as she stepped off the plane in the capital
Tirana in 1989 for her first visit to the country!
Also included on this wide-ranging album is music from two
of Peçi’s many film scores (he is Albania’s leading composer of
music for film) and a number of chamber music works featuring
some of Albania’s talented young performers. In these works,
Peçi combines elements from traditional Albanian music with
techniques adapted from European contemporary music and
all of it worked up in the composer’s intensely personal style,
technique and panache.
“The result is a new voice in European music, truly fresh and
– Eric Salzman
Having never been exposed to Albanian classical music, I wasn’t prepared for the jazz-inflected saxophone that begins Aleksandër Peçi’s Sako’s Wedding (from the film of the same name), nor for “Summertime” revisited, which might be one way to describe the music. But while I think it's accurate to say that Gershwin's not far away, that doesn't detract from the beautiful vocalise, nor from the inventive touches--an improvised Gypsy violin solo, for one—that make Sako’s Wedding such enjoyable listening. Double Dance, for piano, also brings a little jazz to the party, but its rhythmic excitement and folk flavor invoke Bartók. (I hear a connection between Albanian, Hungarian, Romanian, and Gypsy music, but I don’t know if musicologists would agree.) Contemplative moments alternated with savage or scintillating passages, leaving an impression of unrestrained vigor. According to Eric Salzman (with a little help from the composer), A Breath of Wind for solo flute is intended to “reflect the chaotic way the wind reshuffles and ‘dishevels' the natural order of things.” It’s meditative, lyrical, and sometimes reminiscent of shakuhachi (the Japanese end-blown bamboo flute) solos. But shakuhachi music isn’t uniformly calm, and neither is Breath of Wind, with its occasional rough texture and aggressive attacks, which achieve triple forte en route to the closing triple piano. The Broken Song was inspired by an Albanian folk song in which a dying soldier bitterly laments his fate: "If my mother asks for me, tell her that I am married. If she asks what kind of woman I married, tell her three bullets in the chest.” Predominantly slow and sorrowful, it also has energetic moments. The cello makes its point with glissandos, percussive col legno, and harmonics, while the piano’s pointillist interjections provide a spiky accompaniment. A particularly ferocious moment recalls Rzewski’s Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues, but quickly abates. Merry-Go-Round’s soft, mysterious opening, the pervasive folk presence, admittedly often disguised or abstracted, the rhythmic excitement in the piano-driven accelerations, and the sporadic clarinet outbursts, remind me of Bartók’s Contrasts. I’ve warmed up to it more than I thought I would at first hearing.
A piano adaptation of music from Peçi’s film score of the same name, Gjeneral Gramofoni hypnotizes with the steady recurrence of its minor melody. Imagine a dark-hued Gypsy lament emerging in the lower register, building to a forceful peroration and slowly dissolving pianissimo in the treble. Sprays of quicker notes are sprinkled along the way, carefully balanced by Merita Rexha so as not to detract from the main theme. Dialog Liturgjik is an important work, blending Byzantine and Gregorian music with electronics, clarinet, soprano, speaker, and the voice of Mother Teresa. The electronically manipulated choral part was played back during the performance. The layered, drawn out voices, the reverberant atmosphere and shimmering texture bring Ligeti to mind. Other, purely electronic sounds are skillfully integrated, flitting by decoratively emphasizing a rhythmic idea. These are not just bloops and bleeps, but musical well-orchestrated sounds. Rikard Ljarja has an imposing and sonorous voice—an Albanian James Earl Jones. Although I don’t speak Albanian, Ljarja’s delivery is compelling, and the language’s robust character reinforces the text’s ritualistic cadence. The soprano part, beautifully sung by Mariana Leka, is focused and intense or verging on the ethereal. My one quibble with this otherwise absorbing score is the inclusion of the voice of Mother Teresa (an ethnic Albanian coming “home” for the first time), for while she speaks movingly of the abject poor tended by her Order, her recollection of family history, interesting though it may be, goes on too long. If I listened to it repeatedly, I would fast forward through most of her “solo.” On the other hand, her thrice spoken “God bless you all” provides a fitting epilogue as the piece ends.
Peçi creatively blends his Albanian heritage with the cosmopolitan music of our time. The result is often beautiful and sometimes thrilling. Sakos’s Wedding and Dialog Liturgjik will probably have the broadest appeal, but I like the three solo works very much. It may require a bit of effort for conservative listeners to appreciate Merry-Go-Round, but a little persistence goes a long way. According to Salzman, Peçi is Albania’s leading composer, and has written “two symphonies, an opera…cantatas, a ballet, rhapsodies, several concertos, many chamber works, electronic music, fifteen film scores, more than 200 songs and many popular arrangements.” So, there is a lot more where this came from, and based on my reactions to this CD, I’d enjoy hearing it. The performances are all excellent—these are, apparently, some of the most famous musicians in Albania—and the realistic recording is warm and richly detailed. Salzman’s notes are thorough, informative, and include the original text of Dialog Liturgjik, as well as a free translation, but the booklet, with the exception of a photograph of the composer studying a score, is not illustrated.
-- Robert Schulslaper / Fanfare Magazine
© 2016 Labor Records. All rights reserved.