REVIEWS:  divine art   dda 25012 Celestial Harmonies


Charles Camilleri, born in 1931, is here described as Malta’s leading composer. On the basis of this recording I can neither confirm nor deny such a claim, but this certainly the work of an artist of vivid imagination, broad culture and firm technical grounding. British pianist Murray McLachlan contributes the thorough and thoughtful liner notes, and describes Camilleri’s career as going through phases, including nationalism, juvenilia, and spirituality. This program includes his latest music, dating from the late 1970s to the present, and although there are elements of all of the preceding phases in this music, the overall impression here is of a curious and cosmopolitan nature.

Two modern masters are vividly conjured by this music: Olivier Messiaen and Morton Feldman. Both of these composers, although working with very different ranges of sound, were grappling with the same challenge, namely, the expression of the spiritual and mystical world in music. Both composers were attracted to open harmonies, gentle dynamics, and deliberate pacing, but Messiaen also turned to huge, crashing cascades of dense chords to express his view of the supernatural, while Feldman, in his last phase, retreated to a vast almost timeless elucidation of his ideas, with no music to be sounded above a piano level. Camilleri is especially fond of the use of gentle, upward-sprinting whole-tone arpeggios, a signature device of late Feldman. Elsewhere, there is the use of Cage-like aleatory directions, as in Chemins , in which according to McLachlan, “tempo, dynamics, timbre, and mode of attack are left to the discretion of the performer”, as is the order of the music’s rows. Some of the pieces, including the aptly-named “Machine Music” from Chemins , and also movements from Cosmologies and Noospheres , also feature an angry, rhythmic, atonal pounding that seems derived from Bartok or Prokofiev.

All of the music shares the composer’s fascination with the worlds beyond this planet, both physically and spiritually, as related by the titles of the pieces and a generally “spacey” vocabulary of sonic gestures. The title work, Celestial Harmonies , is a distillation of the ambitious collection of influences heard in the rest of the program, a “space-age lullaby for inter-planetary infants” as McLachlan so charmingly puts it. The CD opens with yet another take on Paganini’s 24 th Caprice in a quirky, high-energy rendition for piano four-hands. The individuality and allure of Camilleri’s brief set of variations serve as an accessible introduction to the unique music on the balance of the disc.
Peter Burwasser

“Like Messiaen, the Maltese composer Charles Camilleri rarely shirks the big issues. One set of pieces on this new release is named Cosmologies, another is Celestial Harmonies. Individiual titles include Constellations, Colours of Time and Cosmic Dance. Touches of Turangalila in the exploration of time and space? Indeed, except that the impulse behind these works is the folk music of Malta. The result is often very beautiful; refined in line and texture, haunting yet spare and superbly captured by this Manchester pianist”.    Performance * * * *     Recording * * * * *
Robert Cockroft

Twenty-one (of 22) pieces in this recital invoke the celestial in either its astronomical or mystical aspects. As travel in the void of space gives little sense of motion, so too Camilleri's music inhabits an area of harmonic stasis. Only the resolutely earthbound Paganiana (yes, on that tune) proves an exception. Clear sound, committed performances.
Guy Rickards

Surely this must be counted as one of the most important piano recordings ever issued of Charles Camilleri’s music. As time goes by, the mind becomes more lucid, assimilates influences fairly spectacularly and contributes ideas of such hallowed genius that the all-embracing universe can only hope to contemplate cosmologies and harmony. ‘Paganiniana’ is a delightful virtuoso piece, the famous Caprice turned inside out with its notes sound somber and jovial at the same time.

With ‘Astralis’ we are on a different plane, hallowed almost machine-like music, tortuous and percussive in its intensity. The ‘Constellations’ movement is particularly searching. ‘Cosmologies’ is arguably the masterpiece of the disc a three-movement suite of intensely mystical music. Cosmologies I rises sphinx-like out of universal ashes to expand into a hallowed starscape of marvelous beauty. ‘Colours of Time’ is more retrospective, more genial but no less masterly. As is the briefly wayward Xnobis.

I had already listened first-hand to the premiere of Celestial Harmonies (played by the outstanding Maltese pianist, Ramona Zammit Formosa) and can confirm that the whole work is permeated by wondrous notes climaxing in an almost incredible constellation that is Celestial Harmonies itself. ‘Chemins’ is also fragmentary in nature, short abrasive Machine Music rubs hands with a stately ‘Rythmic Kit’, suffice to say that all is perfectly at one with the stellar theme.

Finally there is ‘Noospheres’, more fireworks, more fantasy, more hallowed divinity. I would refer the listener to Ates Orga’s suitably extensive analysis of this work, part of which is reproduced in the note to the booklet. Obviously Murray Mclachlan’s playing is absolutely spellbinding, a true advocate of the composer’s music, he brings a stamp of authority and excellence to all compositions.

Kathryn Page’s short contribution in Paganiniana is also commendable. Maclachlan also writes the notes to the CD and provides eminently lyucid descriptions that add to the colour and appeal of the whole project. Peter Nicholl’s recording is a clear vote on clarity and the whole project is essential to all piano students, players and enthusiasts alike as it enshrines one of the greatest living composers in music of true celestial harmony.    Performance: *****    Sound: *****
Gerald Fenech

The prolific output of the Maltese-born composer Charles Camilleri has gone through a number of phases, as explained in Murray McLachlan’s booklet notes, and this new CD is made up of music from the composer’s recent, more spiritual, period; that is from the late 1970s to the present day.

Throughout Camilleri’s varied career there have been some impressive works appear alongside others which are less so and I cannot say, in all honesty, that every piece on this album is of the same musical standard.

However, there is more than enough genuinely original music here to make this CD well worth acquiring, particularly the Astralis Suite and the delightful little set of variations on Paganini’s famous 24 th Caprice for Piano Duet, with which the album opens. The three Cosmologies I found less interesting, being cast in Camilleri’s manic-depressive creative mood while incidentally the printed duration of the third is understated on the booklet by about half-a-minute. The haunting suite, Celestial Harmonies , could almost pass for a piece of thoughtful New-Agery, and is probably the most successful work here. Chemins makes excellent sense of a tone-row across its five movements, although it does not wholly avoid impressions of deja-vu and compositional unease. The more well-known Noospheres bring this collection to an exciting and thoughtful conclusion.

Murray McLachlan’s performances are excellent throughout. In all of his work for piano Camilleri writes with genuine understanding of the keyboard. This is real piano music, not merely a few ideas idly strung together without much sense of direction. The recording is excellent, capturing the piano with full, rich tone and placing the instrument ideally within the acoustic.
Robert Matthew-Walker