Toru Takemitsu, Paul Hindemith, Leoš Janáček, and Valentin Silvestrov — composers from Japan, Germany, the Czech Republic and the Ukraine respectively — might not appear to have a great deal in common. But you would never know that from listening to Five Pieces: Music by Takemitsu, Hindemith, Janáček, Silvestrov, the debut album from Italian sisters Natascia and Raffaella Gazzana, known collectively as Duo Gazzana. On the surface, there is very little to differentiate such discerning choice material. Pinpointing a source for the similitude could range from the tapered format of piano and violin to the passive treatment the siblings give to the pieces. Either way, this is the kind of album that requires the listener to lean in extra close if they want to detect anything special. It has less to do with finding hidden levels of subtle brilliance than straining to hear what someone is saying because they aren’t speaking loud enough.
So with Natascia on violin and Rafaella on piano, the Gazzana sisters’ musical execution and overall sound feature a polish that runs contrary to their verve. The program starts with Toru Takemitsu’s “Distance de fée,” a piece from the early ’50s that found the composer’s style in admittedly Western territory. And as far as CD leadoffs go, it barely registers. Following that is Paul Hindemith’s “Sonata in E for Violin and Piano.” Unsurprisingly, the work is Romantically informed and the just the slightest bit harmonically askew — still nothing that would startle your great-grandparents. Things take a slight turn for the darker with Leoš Janáček’s “Sonata for Violin and Piano.” In addition to struggling with his daughter’s death as well as becoming painfully distanced from his wife, Janáček wrote this suite around the time of World War I’s breakout. There is little doubt that it is a troubled work from a troubled man, but the lack of dynamic variation belies any anxiety that a global conflict would bring, especially if it’s happening in your neighborhood. The album concludes with Valentin Silvestrov’s “Five Pieces for Violin and Piano.” It’s the most recent piece featured here, dating back only to 2004. And for a composer who has had such labels batted around for him like “post-modern” and “neoclassical,” the CD’s namesake sure is a straightforward sounding adventure into a dated medium that takes the tonal route at every fork in the road.
Duo Gazzana’s inclination towards modern classical comes readymade with compression, a weighty blanket that muffles the spirit and vitality such tracks would normally demand. With four different suites coming from four different countries spanning over almost 100 years’ time, one would hope for more variety and spark. But no matter how many times one cycles through Five Pieces: Music by Takemitsu, Hindemith, Janáček, Silvestrov, the static mood never lifts. It’s unfortunate because you have two competent musicians playing some potentially compelling music, it’s just all too reverent and reserved. It goes to show you that the quality of an idea and results of its follow-through aren’t always all-inclusive.