The Free-Reed Review
Critiques of Compact Discs, Books and Music Scores
CD Review: Centazzo, Riccardo: Caleidoscopio
Total Time: 79 minutes
Review by: Robert Stead
It has been a while since a CD by Riccardo Centazzo has crossed our desk. In December of 2008 we reviewed two of his CD's: one dedicated to the works of Frescobaldi and the other to the works of J.S. Bach – each disc exploring one composer. Not so with Centazzo's latest CD: Caleidoscopio. Here within twelve selections we are presented with eight composers whose lives span four centuries. As to be expected, the compostions vary greatly in style. I find it interesting that he has chosen two Baroque composers (Bach and Scarlatti) and then draws from late 19th century and 20th century composers. Perhaps Centazzo (like myself) feels that Classical and Romantic era compositions do not rend themselves as effectively to the accordion as do compositions from early and later periods. The pieces he has chosen demonstrate both his technical and interpretive abilities as well and the accordion's power to render Baroque and Contemporary compositions. Accordionist Henry Doktorski has stated: "I have always thought that the accordion lends itself to the Baroque style, like a small chamber organ. In fact, on occasion I have toyed with the idea of calling my instrument a 'chamber organ.'" (see: www.ksanti.net/free-reed/reviews/digesualdo.html). With this set of recordings Riccardo Centazzo provides a wonderful example of the accordion as chamber organ: an instrument small in size but powerfully expressive.
Caleidoscopio begins and ends with selections from the 20th century. Taken as a whole, listening to all the pieces is like twisting a kaleidoscope. As each twist of a kaleidoscope produces a new color-scape, so each piece here presented creates a new sound-scape. As you move from piece to piece you experience atonality and tonality, music with and without meter, tone clusters and chords, and keys major and minor. We begin with a piece composed by one of the greatest accordionists of the 20th century (and a pioneer of the free-bass accordion): Salvatore di Gesualdo. (In the CD program notes, Centazzo notes that his last master was di Gesualdo.) Gesualdo's Improvvisazione #1 leaves tonality and meter behind as he explores tone clusters. This piece presents searing sonorities making very apparent that the accordion is essentially a wind instrument. This composition offers a range of registers and dynamics; it demands of the artist virtuoso bellow control.
Goffredo Petrassi is considered one of the greatest Italian composers of the 20th century. His Petite Piece was written for piano. This neo-classically structured piece offers both a stark contrast to Gesualdo as well as an interesting bridge between the free-form Improvvisazione #1 and Bach's Fantasia a Fuga in La Minore.
Bach's Fantasia e Fuga (BWV 561) and Corale (BWV 751) are organ pieces and it is here especially that the accordion-as-chamber-organ comes to light. Centazzo performs these pieces with all the skill of an organist (and one without pedals!). It is interesting to hear these two pieces played side by side. The Fantasia e Fuga is prodigious and technically demanding. The Corale is light and, though played wonderfully, is not as technically intricate as the previous composition. In fact, there is some controversy about BWV 751. Some musicologist feel that the piece is too simple and therefore probably not written by J.S.Bach suggesting that perhaps a relative of Bach (possibly Johann Michael Bach) composed it. Be that as it may, it is a delightful piece based on the melody that became the Christmas carol "Good Christian Men Rejoice".The light-hearted merriment of the Corale gives way to the dolorous Nenia. This original piece for accordion was written by the Italian composer and pianist Franco Alfano. "Nenia" literally means "dirge" and is thus a funeral song. Nenia also refers to an ancient funeral deity of Rome. Living up to its name, the piece, written in a minor key, begins with the bass playing recurring A-C-E-Bb-D-E quarter notes. There are long, fading phrases with tension created by tone clusters. Noteworthy is the independence of the bass and treble. The bass is slow, plodding and repetitive as if it were defining the underground and the finality of death; the treble – meandering in the minor key then breaking into punctuated tone clusters. The pieces ends in a bass-treble unified a-minor chord.
The Ouverture Italiana breaks the darkness and melancholy of Nenia with a burst of sound both bright and vibrant! This piece by the Italian composer, Lino Liviabella, was also written for accordion. It is evidently so by the use of the bellows to swell and shake the sound. The bellow control is most evident at the end of the piece.
Leaving behind original pieces written in the 20th century, we return to the 17th century and listen to three pieces by Dominico Scarlatti. I must admit that I have always found Scarlatti played on accordion enchanting. These three pieces are delightfully played. All three use "A" as the tonal center, but we shift from major to minor back to major. Here the kaleidoscope is displaying mood shifts. It is as if we discover Scarlatti as confident and secure, then frenetic (with quickly repeated 16th notes), and finally playful and dancelike with a piece in the style of a gigue. Centazzo's execution of these pieces is flawless. I especially like his phrasing.
Choral variee by French composer Henri Sauguet was written for accordion. Although the title implies a theme and variation, this piece is more properly a theme and transformation. The first 80 seconds present the entire chorale. Likewise, the last 80 seconds is a restatement the chorale (in the same key). Between these two statements are several transformations of the chorale material. To appreciated the complexity of the composition, you need to listen several times. In fact, the more I listened, the more impressed I became with both Centazzo's artistry and Sauget's writing.
The juxtapositioning of Sauguet's piece with Bach's organ piece Partite su "O Gott, du frommer Gott" offers an interesting contrast. The Partite presents a set of variations based on a chorale (chorale translation: "O God, Thou Righteous God"). It begins with a clear statement of the chorale and is followed by several variations of the chorale melody. By putting these two works side-by-side, you clearly hear two different approaches to theme and variation.
The final piece by Krzysztof Olczak takes us full circle stylistically. Olczak is from Poland and is both an accordionist and a composer of accordion music. He studied accordion at the Academy of Music in Warsaw under Wlodzimierz Lech Puchnowski who was the founder of the Warsaw Accordeon Quintet. An original piece for accordion Phantasmagorien, like di Gesualdo's Improvvisazione #1 draws upon tone clusters in a free-form style. In addition, he makes use of the non-tonal capacities of the accordion: the clicking of the registers, tapping on the accordion, and flow of air through the air-release button.
So much for looking at the individual pieces. What I find, however, most fascinating about this album is the choice and the order of the selections. This album could be considered a concept album. Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" comes to mind as an example. Each track on that album is exceptional, but the whole is even greater. This is exactly how I feel about Caleidoscopio. Each track is extremely well done, but the real genius is found in the compilation. By drawing upon keyboard and accordion compositions from past and present, Centazzo demonstrates the power and ability of the accordion to express a kaleidoscope of timbres and moods. The pieces composed for accordion emphasize what is unique about the accordion – the dynamic expressiveness that comes from a wind instrument and the ability of the bellows to shape sound. With the organ pieces by Bach, Riccardo Centazzo demonstrates that the accordion is actually a chamber organ—that is: when played well, the majesty of the organ can be contained in the bellows of the accordion. By alternating between the 17th century and the 20th century he provides an interesting contrast of styles. This album not only entertains, it informs.
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