Federico Albanese’s album “The Blue Hour” has been out on the “Neue Meister” label for nearly three years now (release date 15.01.2016), so this review may to some people seem more than a little late. In my defence, I only “discovered” the music of Federico Albanese a few days ago when he performed music from the follow up to this album “By The Deep Sea” and music from this album at a concert at The Queen’s Hall Edinburgh. After the concert, and the review, I asked his PR people if they would be kind enough to send copies of these albums to be reviewed, as I have found a new composer of great interest in Federico. His PR team kindly sent both albums off to me within a few days of my request.
This review is maybe a little different from others out there as I have at time of writing the hindsight of having listened to the follow up album “By The Deep Sea” and heard Federico perform music from both albums live. For me, although both albums are distinctively individual works, they also share many common compositional threads that unify them into a far larger musical narrative and experience. The one thing that was clear immediately from this live performance was that Italian born composer Federico Albanese is, in the 21st century, carrying on that wonderful tradition that Italy has of producing outstanding composers for piano. Federico has taken the possibilities of piano a step further though by also creating music on electronic keyboards, sampling sounds and combining everything into something hauntingly beautiful and very unique.
Perhaps the best way to start with this album is to quote Federico from his own website
“The Blue Hour” Federico took inspiration from the brief transitional state between day and night, writing a collection of chamber-music miniatures that withdraw, explore, yet assert their laconic melodies all the more decisively”.
That “brief transitional” state between day and night is a common theme throughout the myths and music of many cultures worldwide. Many people (myself included) consider this “in between” period as almost magical, a time when the boundaries of our world and something beyond it overlap slightly, and there is throughout the music on “The Blue Hour” that sense of moving into another space and time, leaving behind our common points of focus and reality to explore with Federico aspects of the “in between” spaces that is “The Blue Hour”, and the common factor to us all is that we all have at sometimes in our lives our own “Blue Hour” experiences.
The Blue Hour is not truly a reference point in time, more a space without time, and although this album has 13 individual pieces to it, when you listen to the album as one piece of work, there is more of a sense of continuity in some space that can fool our senses by its familiarity to what is around us while at the same time unsettling us slightly with something that we know is there, but just out of our reach. It is this place of contemplation, spiritual healing and self-exploration of our inner self that Federico Albanese somehow captures here in his music.
Perhaps part of my fascination is that, here in Scotland, we have a landscape that is perfectly suited for “The Blue Hour” and a long tradition of “in-between” spaces and places being gateways to realms beyond our normal daily experiences; a space and time where the edges of different worlds overlap slightly for brief moments in time as the thin walls that normally separate them dissolve into one another.
That sense of entering some sense of a different space is immediate in the first work on this album, “Nel buio” and continues into our next work “Time Has Changed” where you can hear and feel almost the ticking of time passing. Through the music of Federico we are invited to explore with him the fragile space that is “The Blue Hour” and familiar sounds become almost dreams in an unexplored landscape so similar to our normal everyday one in many respects, but strangely unrecognisable here and at times unsettling and perhaps dangerous to us. This is a land of low light and shadows where nothing is as it first seems. Even our title work “The Blue Hour”, a hauntingly beautiful work of composition has that feeling of shifting in and out of focus with our known reality to it. Something that should provide a familiar reference point for us “My Piano Night” instead adds to the mystery of the space that Federico Albanese has created for us the listener here as it seems to float in the air without a past or future moment in time, it is simply there.
The Blue Hour is a very special work from the inner soul of a very special composer, and to be able to somehow capture in music a little bit of what just lies beyond our everyday reach is a very special gift indeed.
Review by Tom King