"...she succeeds gloriously in guiding our ear through the varied qualities."
Emanuela Battigelli, harp. CD Artesuono, 2020.
Italian harpist Emanuela Battigelli’s new disc Le ninfee (The Water Lilies) is based on a poem of the same name, actually a fragment of a larger work that pays homage to the great French writer Stéphane Mallarmé. He inspired Debussy to write one of his most famous works, Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun. Like that mysterious and reverie-filled music, Battigelli presents an entire journey through the “double landscape” of water—one that both reflects and has a life of its own beneath that reflection.
Her style is quiet, meditative, and encourages us to sit back and give her all the time and space to construct an environment. Most compelling are the works seldom heard and some receiving premiere recordings on the disc including the expressively impulsive Prelude by Chilean-Israeli composer Leon Schidlowsky. It might be the most virtuosic piece on the CD, requiring Battigelli to weave together a fabric of isolated sounds and intensities. Capricious and unstable, she succeeds gloriously in guiding our ear through the varied qualities, as if the music was in surround sound and we need to move ourselves into position to “see” the sound.
Le Suore or “The Nuns” by Italian composer Guido Guerrini begins with “The Walk to the Cloisters.” There is a bit of pomp and devoutness to the walk, and yet beneath are hidden emotions, ones we can only detect by the flicker of emotion under a habit. This then feeds directly into the cleverness of the word painting in “Gossip in the Refectory” where the harpist manages the hubbub in one hand while louder, more insistent voices take over in the other. Battigelli plays with such style, we can all but imagine the words in those whispers as well as in Novices’ Nostalgia where she draws the curtain back so we can hear the ambivalence of a young woman choosing to devote her life to God.
Ivan Fedele’s darkly thrilling Gstaad Variations may be written about one of the most beautiful mountain resorts in Switzerland, but as in any snowy region, there are dangers lurking—avalanches, freezing temperatures, whiteouts. Battigelli manages the extended techniques and pointillistic properties with aplomb, building each variation to a rowdy conclusion.
A little music from The Doors doesn’t hurt either, Battigelli making “Riders on the Storm” sound as though intended to be played on the harp. Also on the disc are three miniatures by Robert Schumann, including “The Prophet Bird” from Forest Scenes. Battigelli’s quicksilver technique gives this bird a jaunty and quixotic manner. As well, Louis-Claude Daquin’s “Le Coucou” flits from branch to branch, never quite sitting still long enough to capture its visage even if we hear its song. Ending with Robert Maxwell’s classic “Ebb Tide” is sheer genius.