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Pierluigi Potalivo ” Spirito di una Sonata (The Spirit of a Sonata)”

24 Oct, 2010 Matt Warnock

How does one properly interpret a piece of classical repertoire that was written hundreds of years before they were born?  Written in a time and place that is as foreign to the performer as the modern world would appear to the composer, how could one begin to imagine what the composer had in mind when they penned any particular composition?  These are the questions that classical guitarist Pierluigi Potalivo tackles within the performance of his album Spirito di una Sonata (The Spirit of a Sonata)

The album begins with a unique and highly personable interpretation of Giuliani’s Op. 15, which carries the same title as the record.  Written in four movements, “Allegro,” “Adagio,” “Scherzo” and “Rondo,” the piece is a showcase for Potalivo’s highly-crafted technical ability and advanced melodic interpretation.  This is not your typical rendition of a Giuliani Sonata, as one would hear in any typical student classical guitar program, but a reworking of the piece that is meant to pay tribute to the composer as much as bring the work into a modern context.

Potalivo possesses impeccable technique, and the accuracy of his slurs during the opening movement are a testament to this.  Further, his soulful and mature telling of the “Adagio” section really brings his artistic merit to the listener’s attention.  Far too often, especially in today’s classical guitar world where technique is King, players will sacrifice melody, tone and emotion for that extra few notches on the metronome, but Potalivo is not your typical player.  He allows each line to breathe, drawing every ounce of emotion from this powerful piece.

His handling of the deceptive cadence at 7:00 into the movement is a prime example of Potalivo’s musicianship.  Rolling the dominant chord, before holding onto a single melody note for just the right amount of time, he pulls the listener into the codetta with the utmost respect for both the piece and the audience.  It is moments like this that really make this album stand out among the crowded classical guitar library.

The second half of the album, titled “Five Possible Moments: A Program of Hispanic Forgeries,” presents five short vignettes, each presenting a possible moment in history that is then retold through the interpretation of the pieces.  “Fernando Sor Spies Debussy” brings to life an imagined meeting between the two composers and performers, the former a guitarist and the later a pianist.

The imaginary voyage continues with the Spanish flavored piece “Federico Mompou Thinks of Albeniz.”  Filled with lush harmonies and hints of Spanish rhythms, this second short movement is one of the second halves finest moments.  Again, Potalivo takes the opportunity to shine on a slower, more emotional movement, whereas other players of similar stature might simply rely on the presto movements to create excitement.

While he does showcase his musicianship during the slower movements, there are also moments, such as “Antonio Lauro the Venezuelan Returns to Naples,” where Potalivo allows the listener a glimpse into the technical side of his playing.  His slurs are solid as he weaves his way through a melodic line that has the potential to trip up even the most seasoned classical guitarist.

Also, his ability to play unison fretted and open string notes side by side in perfect tuning should not go unnoted.  As anyone who has spent time with a classical guitar will know, simply placing one’s fingers on a fret does not guarantee a note will be in tune, there is a definite amount of skill to keeping notes in tune as one ascends the fretboard, a skill that Potalivo possesses and demonstrates throughout this movement.

Spirito di una Sonata (The Spirit of a Sonata) is an enjoyable and masterfully performed album.  It provides a fresh look at oft-performed repertoire, one that is at once a tribute to the composers who wrote these pieces as it to the master craftsman who performed them.  Potalivo takes a risk with his interpretations on this album, and manages to succeed on every level.

Review by Matt Warnock

Animal Confession “A Thousand Lies”

23 Oct, 2010 Matt Warnock

Tearing into the introduction with a guitar riff right out of James Iha’s tenure with Smashing Pumpkins, “A Thousand Lies” from Animal Confession is a hard-nosed track that offers a level of musical complexity and dexterity rarely heard in today’s radio friendly rock. With a heavy focus on tonal variations in the guitar parts, syncopated drum work and catchy, yet meaningful, lyrics, Animal Confession puts their stamp on the modern rock genre with this release.

With a bevy of alternative bands swamping the radio waves these days, it’s often difficult for ear-worthy artists to find the spotlight they deserve. What makes bands like Animal Confession stand out against the crowd are the subtle musical nuances in the writing and playing. Take the guitar tone for instance. Many modern rock guitarists have two settings, clean and dirty, but Animal Confession showcases an effective use of delay, reverb, layering and multi-level distortion to grab the listener’s attention without losing them along the way, something that seems to be becoming a rarity with the new generation of rock guitarists.

As well, the drum work on this track comes off, at least to the listener, as if it was carefully crafted to mix hard-rock grooves with dance, and even Latin, influenced syncopation. Though moments such as the up-beat kick drum work during the opening chorus, or the post-chorus break groove that sets up the song’s bridge, might have just developed by chance in rehearsals, one gets the impression of bringing a heightened sense of rhythm to this song, much more so than the simple back beat or rock groove you’d normally expect from a radio-rock track.

The lyrics are well-written and tell a story, a well-told tale, but with a new personal twist that provides incentive for the audience to invest themselves in the song’s monologue. Lyricist Andrew Gharib has a way with words.  Robert Plant or Roger Waters he is not, but he possesses a knack for the right word at the right time. His vocal lines are also carefully worked out as they highlight moments of tension and release in the storyline.

“A Thousand Lies” is a well-written, admirably arranged and skillfully performed track that deserves wider recognition from the alternative, modern rock crowd. Bands like Animal Confession are in a precarious position these days. All they need is a chance to be heard in order to grab the public’s attention, but with a sea of new artists emerging everyday sometimes the worthy are lost in the mix. If Gharib keeps writing songs of this caliber, and gets their music on stage and in iPods across the country, there’s no doubt they have a bright future ahead of them.

Review by Matt Warnock