Classical Album Of The Week: A Sicilian Cellist Explores Folk Themes Woven Into Works From His Homeland And Beyond
Sicilian cellist and composer Alessio Pianelli takes us on a fascinating journey as A Sicilian Traveller through the folk music of many lands, as interpreted by the well-curated program of composers on our Classical Album of the Week.
Drawing on folk music is a personal favorite compositional style of mine, I think because folk music is quite literally music of the people—and, I would argue, is classical music even before it’s adapted into a new work. It is music that immediately resonates within its community, because that is the music the community natively produces, and the composed result is best when the music is still of the people. That’s the case across this record.
Pianelli, with his cello in the extra seat on the plane, takes us eastward to Georgia and Armenia first, then to England where Samuel Coleridge-Taylor takes us even further west to America, and then makes his way home to Sicily via Romania and Greece. The Avos Chamber Ensemble is along for the ride, and they make for excellent musical companions.
The arrangements are all Pianelli’s, very much writing to his own strengths while allowing the orchestra to have their moments to shine, and of course their fun. Sulkhan Tsintsadze’s Miniatures, originally for string quartet, are a great opener to show both of these elements.
Folk tunes aren’t all dances, though, and Pianelli handles the slow pieces masterfully—take Komitas’s “Krunk,” from his Armenian Folk Songs and Dances, as well as Coleridge-Taylor’s take on “Deep River” from his 24 Negro Melodies.
Pianelli cites the Coleridge-Taylor works first in his reasoning for his programming choices, which revolve around the theme of immigration, and in the spirituals’ case, refuge from oppression. Both of these sets, as Pianelli tells it, convey a sense of how music can preserve and recreate human identity and culture, despite the horrors and consequences of colonialism, genocide, and war.
On the way back to Sicily, Pianelli stops in Transylvania for music from Bela Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances and Greece for music from Nikos Skalkottas’s 36 Greek Dances.
His own variations on the Sicilian folk song “Ciuri, ciuri,” are (there’s no other word for it) a banger of a closer. Solo lines are traded back and forth between Pianelli and the orchestra to great effect, ending in what I would consider the orchestral version of a rock band letting its guitars feed back with their amps on stage at the end of a show, only to come back one more time with the theme for a final button.
It’s as invigorating a journey as the album itself, a trip I’d surely go on again.