Classical CD Reviews

RAFFAELE BELLAFRONTE: ‘Arakathalama’ = Nights in Broadway; Midnight plays; Desaccòrd; Blue; Passi; Cristalli di sale; Oasi alle mente; Arakathalama – var. performers – Stradivarius

A sort of likable tension throughout, if you like tension.

Published on May 11, 2012

RAFFAELE BELLAFRONTE: ‘Arakathalama’ = Nights in Broadway; Midnight plays; Desaccòrd; Blue; Passi; Cristalli di sale; Oasi alle mente; Arakathalama – var. performers – Stradivarius

RAFFAELE BELLAFRONTE: ‘Arakathalama’ = Nights in Broadway; Midnight plays; Desaccòrd; Blue; Passi; Cristalli di sale; Oasi alle mente; Arakathalama – var. performers– Stradivarius Records STR 33904 (Distr. by Allegro), 73:21 ***:

I had never heard of Italian composer Raffaele Bellafronte until hearing this disc. The opening paragraph of the booklet notes by Ennio Sparanza describes Bellafronte as “…outspoken, resolute, linear…” and his music as that which does “… (not) strive to please, that does somersaults in the air…” (Et cetera.) To be honest, I was a bit apprehensive. The given description left the expectation that Bellafronte’s music would be rough, harsh, complex or any other set of adjectives implying I probably wouldn’t like it. But I kind of do.

To be sure, Bellafronte’s music is not the “usual” concert hall fare. In fact, it nearly defies description. For example, the opening work, a brass quintet entitled Nights in Broadway has a kind of jazz feel to it but with some really unusual and unpredictable rhythmic patterns behind it.  There are some minimalist elements in the scoring (as Sparanza points out) but really all three movements feel like an interpretation of some New York street mayhem and it works. The Gomalan Brass ensemble plays very convincingly.

The very jazz-tinged feel continues with Midnight Players for clarinet, cello and piano. This is a very nice piece with a sort of smoky, unsettled, tense feeling throughout and a very cool clarinet line! The overall feel is kind of dark, jazzy with some nervous energy, but I thought it made for interesting listening. (Incidentally, to the production editors at Stradivarius Records, the piece is listed on the CD label as “Midnight plays” and again, as such, in the booklet track listing. Yet, Sparanza’s notes call it Midnight Players – which makes more sense to me. Which is it?)

The piano sonata, Desaccòrd, is a true three movement sonata work with some strange, but attractive harmonies and more of that somewhat schizophrenic fine line between jazz and academic modernism at work. I felt the same way about the work for violin and harp, Blue. This is a very ethereal, strange, delicate nocturne type of piece wherein a very beautiful but “troubled” violin line is supported by some eerie and nearly alien harp arpeggiations. I did find it oddly attractive.

Passi for flute, alto saxophone and piano is similar to Blue in that the solo lines of the winds are both individually interesting but work together quite well in a weaving contrapuntal way, almost vying for the most attention against a piano line that also periodically comes in with some interesting melody. This work, too, has some jazz touches but rides the line between the expected and the wildly unexpected.

Cristalli di sale for guitar and harp floats in and out of a clear B minor tonality and features some of the same type of small rhythmic cells that populate some of Bellafronte’s other works. A bit more abstract, in my estimation, than the others in this collection, this work is still interesting because of the textural similarities between guitar and harp.  Oasi alla mente may be the most abstract work in this collection. Scored for flute, violin, cello and piano, it drifts in a nearly atonal way and feels like improvisation in many ways. The propulsive middle section is filled with tension and more nervous energy. It is an interesting work to listen to but also a bit of a tough, heady listen.

This collection ends with Arakathalama – the title being a completely made up word intended to sound mysterious.  This work for clarinet, guitar, bandeon and double bass has some things in common with Midnight Players in that there is a real edgy feel to most of it that – none the less – has a genuinely jazzy feel and (once again) some very nice clarinet parts!  I actually enjoyed this work a great deal and the Filharmonici di Bussetto are great players!

All performances on this disc seem very solid and the recording is clean and lively. In trying to research Raffaele Bellafronte and his music, it became clear that he is one of Italy’s better known and most cutting edge composers of new music and is, indeed, well versed in the genres of contemporary classical as well as jazz. His style is very unique and really does defy categorization. I think that this collection is a good place to get to know his music which I do characterize as a bit tense, a bit unusual but with a progressive jazz gene and not unpleasant.  It probably isn’t going to appeal to everyone but it is certainly worth checking out and forming your opinion. I do think that the package labeling needs to be precise and the booklet notes are a bit dense and wordy. But, hear and read for yourself.

—Daniel Coombs

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