The Free-Reed Review
Critiques of Compact Discs, Books and Music Scores
CD Review: Salvatore di Gesualdo
The Classical Accordionist
total time: 50:13
label: EMA Records (30007)
Salvatore di Gesualdo, accordion
Review by Henry Doktorski:
I have been trying to obtain a CD by the Italian accordionist Salvatore di Gesualdo for many years. I first heard about him in 1989 when I purchased my first free-bass concert accordion: a Victoria 140 bass quint-free-bass convertor piano-keyboard model. Di Gesualdo also plays a Victoria accordion, a 160-quint-free-bass model which, I believe, he designed himself. His instrument—which can be ordered from the Victoria company -- has two extra left-hand bass rows which descend one octave lower than the standard accordion (and four notes lower than the standard free-bass accordion or bayan) to a contra C. I heard rumors that he played the complete Art of Fugue by J.S. Bach and this is something that I wanted to hear.
Di Gesualdo is probably the most famous Italian concert accordionist alive today. According to the CD booklet notes, he was "self taught, he left University to study music." He won an international trophy in Salzburg in 1962 and earned diplomas in choral music and conducting (1967) and composition (1970) from the B. Rossini State Conservatory in Pesaro. He also studied orchestral conducting at St. Cecilia in Rome. He presently teaches composition and musical analysis for teachers at the L. Cherubini State Conservatory in Florence.
I was especially pleased to receive a copy of di Gesualdo's CD (his first, I presume) from EMA Records. Although Art of Fugue was not included on the program, the musicianship was all that I thought it would be. He doesn't need to transcribe music for the accordion; he simply plays it from the score. His choice of music appeals to me; Renaissance and Baroque compositions as well as his own original contemporary compositions. 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."
The early music selections on the CD (22 minutes worth) are a good introduction to contrapuntal Renaissance and Baroque keyboard music. Most of the composers are Italian, with the exception of the English William Byrd, and the compositions are short, ranging between 2:21 (Pasquini's Toccata) and 5:36 (Merullo's Toccata). These are not flashy virtuoso pieces; they are within the abilities of any competent keyboard player, be he or she an organist, harpsichordist or pianist. I believe di Gesualdo does not delight in pyrotechnics, he delights in recreating fine music. If the listener is not entertained, who cares? His performances are targeted toward discriminating classical music lovers who appreciate quality music.
Di Gesualdo is unusual in that he plays these works on the accordion; note for note with stylistic authenticity. If I am not mistaken, he was the first Italian accordionist to master the free-bass accordion, and he has made quite a name for himself as a classical accordionist.
The second half of the CD—the more substantial half, I might add, clocking in at 28 minutes—consists of (predominantly) atonal works composed by di Gesualdo. It is a curious contrast: early music on one hand and atonal music on the other. This dichotomy is not limited to this particular CD; he often programs similar pieces for his concert performances. (*1) Obviously di Gesualdo wanted his listeners to hear his own works.
These works, unlike the early music pieces, are not contrapuntal; they are more like surreal sustained tones and intervals (di Gesualdo seems to have an affinity for minor seconds) punctuated with sharp stabs of clusters, not unlike many other aleatoric works I have heard.
The final track on the CD is Musica pro Guido, a complex work for accordion and magnetic tape which was composed to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of the birth of the famous Medieval music theorist, Guido d'Arezzo (ca. 994-1050), whose invention of the staff served as the foundation for modern Western musical notation. Although the piece's opening is similar to di Gesualdo's other three compositions, as it begins with a single tone and gradually adds other tones in succession, it is much more developed. Various Medieval chants appear within the piece, which I assume were authored by Guido, as well as brief sections of syncopated jazz choral singing accompanied by a plucked string bass.
The CD liner notes are written in Italian. Some (but not all) sections are translated into English. Although this CD is superb, I consider it to be simply an appetizer which precedes far greater recordings to come, and I wait with bated breath for the release of di Gesualdo performing the entire Art of Fugue. This, I believe, would be a worthy monument for posterity of di Gesualdo's genius and I hope he will consent to record this CD as a legacy for future generations of classical accordionists.
(*1) On June 30, 2000, di Gesualdo performed the following works:
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