Fanfare

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