The variety, beauty and sheer unfathomability of much of the natural world has inspired composers and musicians for centuries, being responsible for some particularly momentous works within the realm of classical music. The Blue Hour by Italian pianist Federico Albanese may be more modest and scaled-back, but it offers striking proof that the earthly allure extends all the way up to composers of modern classical, a movement that has quietly grown and established itself over the last decade.
For his second album, Albanese has chosen to focus on one particular phenomenon: the period of time during dawn and dusk where the low position of the sun causes the sky to take on a shade of blue. The contrasting feelings of calmness and gradual change associated with this time find a suitable match in Albanese’s sensitively rendered music.
His début album The Houseboat And The Moon was released back in 2014 and, while it was successful in introducing his sound and received generally glowing praise, The Blue Hour feels better positioned to open his music up to a greater audience. Like the best modern classical albums, it is a beautifully fluid and thematically unified piece of work. Piano is the constant thread that runs throughout, erecting various melodic frameworks as it proceeds, but some subtle electronic and string embellishments help broaden the scope, noticeable in the confident early pairing of Time Has Changed and Migrants. The underpinning electronics of the former lend a tighter structure while the strings of the latter give an indication of Albanese’s all round compositional strength.
Shadow Land Pt. 1’s alliance of pirouetting piano and gliding strings recalls the likes of Max Richter and Peter Broderick at their best, yet manages to stand equal to them, with its own strength of voice. Later, the album also contains hints towards recent releases by Penguin Café and Rachel Grimes while also (inevitably, perhaps) tipping its hat at fellow countryman Ludovico Einaudi. There’s something painterly and impressionistic in the way Albanese uses sound to outline shapes and depict movement – all evident in the way Silent Fall’s crystal clear piano articulations are reprised poignantly in the open spaces of Céline. The Boat And The Cove, meanwhile, is an exercise in slowed down bareness, a feeling extended well into the resonating cinematic depth of the title track.
The album may be released on Berlin Classics (as part of their Neue Meister series), but could be placed closely alongside artists in the Erased Tapes roster. His ability to use the piano as a platform for emotional navigation may make it tempting to draw comparisons with Nils Frahm, but here Albanese’s music seems more compact and inward-looking. Closing pair My Piano Night and Stellify, meanwhile, have a purity that recalls the way that the world looks infinitely better during snowfall.
The Blue Hour has finesse, sensitivity and lightness of touch: all the hallmarks of a great modern classical album. In Federico Albanese, we’ve got a new name to watch out for.