ALBUM TITLE: Collection: K‘ng‘
WORKS: Albanian piano music by Ibrahimi, Lara, Vorpsi, Zadeja, Harapi,
PERFORMER: Kirsten Johnson (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: GMCD 7257
Of all the old Stalinist dictatorships, Albania has a reputation as the most ‘backward’. Enver Hoxha forbade study of any music written after 5 March 1953 (when Stalin and Prokofiev both expired). Unsurprisingly, the music on this disc sounds a couple of generations behind its times. It tills a narrow plot, its boundaries defined by early Bartók, Prokofiev, Khachaturian, constant reference to folk intonations and a mildly exotic, ‘oriental’ melos. The repertoire recycles percussive ostinato writing, children’s songs and dances, ballades, marches and folksong settings.
No strong individual personality is likely to emerge from such restrictions, yet this is a surprisingly enjoyable collection. Albania’s composers turn out to have been a capable and thoroughly musicianly lot who turned limitation to advantage and worked within their narrow confines with skill and grace and inventiveness. Nothing here is epoch-making, but nor is anything clumsy or ineffective either. The toccatas of Feim Ibrahimi and Arian Avrazi are invigorating works, much else has charm or carries elegiac conviction, and the haunting and impressive Four Piano Pieces of Çesk Zadeja (1927-97), at least, introduce a composer I’d like to hear more of. Kirsten Johnson, who has made an intensive study of Albania’s music over the past decade, expounds all this repertoire with manifest sympathy and skill. An unexpected delight. Calum MacDonald