The piano may be centuries old but its appeal shows no signs of abating. This year has already seen a wide range of artists demonstrate its cross-functional, ultra-accessible qualities. Relative old hands like Nils Frahm and Ólafur Arnalds have continued their deep personal immersion in the instrument, diverse acts like Kathryn Joseph, Poppy Ackroyd and GoGo Penguin have consolidated their growing positions and newer acts like Shida Shahabi, Kelly Moran and Sebastian Plano have emerged to acclaim.
Italian artist Federico Albanese deserves to be included in the middle group above. He may be a new name to most but he’s spent the last decade creating accomplished yet understated music centred around the piano.
Tonight’s show at the Purcell Room begins in darkness, with the sounds of the sea played from the stage while Albanese takes his seat at the piano. Tracks from new album By The Deep Sea open the show, Albanese’s soft, caressing of the piano being supported by electronic sounds coaxed from an iPad and array of other electronic devices connected to the piano. Adding these background layers feels like an attempt to replicate the strings and other instrumentation found on the album but unfortunately at times they don’t quite synchronise fully and end up as a slight distraction to the purity of his piano playing. The title track from the new album fares better, seeing him at his most distilled and containing hints of Yann Tiersen within.
The middle of the set sees him play three songs from 2016’s The Blue Hour. They flow into one another in beautiful fashion, stained glass coloured nocturnes running alongside prettified vignettes. The incorporation of background sound also aligns much better on these pieces and give rise to memories of his stunning late-night set at WOMAD back in 2016.
His music doesn’t quite wear its emotions on its sleeve to the extent that of others does, maintaining a kind of dispassionate distance but Veiled and Your Lunar Way from his latest album close the show in impressive style. The former unfolds in contemplative style, confirming his ability to conjure concise cinematic shorts out of nothing while the latter is a rotating dance-like piece that recalls Penguin Café Orchestra, the electronic sounds mirroring and mimicking the piano lines. It puts a seal on a successful show that shines light on an artist willing to introduce fresh ideas to progress and deepen his sound.