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This is the recording debut of Italian sisters Natascia and Raffaella Gazzana, named for the “Five Pieces” for violin and piano by Valentin Silvestrov which conclude the album. These works – a gently-pulsing elegy, a serenade, an intermezzo, a barcarole, a ghostly nocturne – receive their international release here in a context which combines the familiar and the far-flung, as Duo Gazzana finds creative affinities between the music of four very different composers. “The programme as a whole is typical of the duo’s inquiring and sensitive approach to repertory”, writes Paul Griffiths in the liner notes. “What we hear here is a vital freshness”.

Unorthodox perspectives inform both the programme and the duo’s approach to it. The album begins with Tōru Takemitsu’s “Distance de fée”, written in 1951 when the composer, as yet in pursuit of a stylistic identity, was still strongly influenced by Messiaen and Debussy, Europeans who themselves were looking eastward for inspiration. Distance and proximity are underlying themes here. Two worlds, Wolfgang Sandner suggests, are combined yet not reconciled in “Distance de fée”, which nonetheless anticipates the haiku-like vividness of later Takemitsu, the composer who would say, “I’d like to produce sounds that are as intense as silence.”

Paul Hindemith’s 1935 Sonata in E, travelling from pastoral beginnings to harmonic complexity, offers challenges to which the Duo Gazzana respond adroitly, likewise the Janáček Violin Sonata with its balance of lyrical flow and expressive gestures. One historical connection between the two works is that Hindemith gave the international premiere of the Janáček piece in Frankfurt in 1923. Janáček had begun the Sonata in 1914 as the First World War was erupting (“I could just about hear the sound of the steel clashing in my troubled head”, he would later write), and continued to revise the music over the next several years. It is one of his most concentrated chamber pieces, packing a wealth of detail into its four movements, and also amongst his most impassioned music, juxtaposing dense writing in the piano and expansive thematic material in the violin. Contrasts are explored, also with conflicting elements, as in the final movement where – as critic John Tyrell has remarked – ‘interruption motifs’ from the violin, tiny repetitive fragments, challenge the broad-arched melodies of the piano.

The album “Five Pieces” was recorded in March 2011 in Auditorio Radiotelevisione Svizzera, Lugano.

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The first Italian chamber musicians to record for ECM New Series, Duo Gazzana is formed by sisters Natascia and Raffaella Gazzana. Both were born in Sora, near Rome. Although their first ‘official’ concerts as Duo Gazzana dates back to the mid 1990s, they have been playing together from the beginning of their musical educations, their parallel musical experience and a love of chamber music enabling them to develop their shared sense of harmony. It may be equally significant that their cultural background is more than just musical, both of them having graduated from Sapienza, the University of Rome, in arts subjects: Natascia in visual arts, Raffaella in Italian literature.

The two artists, individually and together, have enjoyed encouragement and support from teachers of the first eminence: Bruno Canino and the Trio di Milano, Yehudi Menuhin, Corrado Romano, Uto Ughi, Piero Farulli, Pierre Amoyal, Pavel Gililov, Ruggiero Ricci among others in Rome, Geneva, Brussels, Siena, Lausanne, Fiesole and Salzburg…

Both sisters have been awarded prizes, special mentions, diplomas of honours and of merit, in Italy and abroad.

The Duo has given recitals around the world and toured widely in Europe, Africa and Asia, performing at major institutions, festivals, concert halls, galleries, cultural associations and more. The Duo has a special affinity with the Far East, indeed their resumé includes performances in Japan, Vietnam, South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong where Natascia and Raffaella Gazzana have also given master classes.

Three-language CD booklet (English, German and Italian) includes liner notes by Paul Griffiths and Wolfgang Sandner, and artist photos.

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