Didn’t I already love Bruno Sanfilippo’s music enough? I have followed him over the years through ambient spaces and solo piano ruminations, and now he comes forth bearing ClarOscuro, a suite of pieces for an intimate acoustic trio. With his as-always wonderful piano accompanied by cellist Manuel del Fresno and violinist Pere Bardagi, Sanfilippo turns out an album that is quite simply the most beautiful work he has ever released. Emotionally stunning, ClarOscuro grabs the listener by the heart mere moments after its first note, and never relinquishes its hold. The full trio pieces are very strong. It’s hard to resist the soulful allure of those throaty cello sounds and the singing violin. The title track, which kicks off the album, makes full use of the dynamic. The harmonies between the three instruments are heart-stirring. Each instrument has its moment at the forefront, and the piece itself is a perfect, classic-influenced ballad. If you can listen to this without feeling a twinge of pure emotion, I would politely suggest there is something wrong with you. On “Luciana” Sanfilippo lays out a strict and angular piano line, a patient phrase over which the strings sing a duet. del Fresno’s bass notes are resonant and rich here, fully utilizing the potency of those low strings. Sanfilippo makes an interesting decision on his album by giving his composition “A Constant Passion” over completely to del Fresno and Bardagi. This slowly bowed dirge reminds me of the work of Henryk Górecki. The cello repeats its simple phrase over and over, gaining emotional power with each unchanging pass. Bardagi provides the high counterpoint, a voice on the edge of tears. The trio get more playful on “It Happens On the Ship.” This piece has a tipsy charm about it. It feels like soundtrack music from a 1940s comic film.
The piano weaves unsteadily between the strings. Bardagi’s violin repeats a drowsy run that feels like it’s trying to keep its eyes open–and del Fresno’s lullaby lines on cello aren’t helping. This track just makes me smile. Then there are Sanfilippo’s solo pieces on piano. As with his Piano Texture releases, this is the sound of an artist in genuine mastery of his instrument. “The Movement of Grass” gets an assist from light electronic touches that whisper in the background. Subtle warbles and a gentle sigh of wind–both just enough to suggest their presence, a light tap on your shoulder to ask for your momentary attention.
The clean New Age style of “Day by Day” closes the album softly and romantically.
ClarOscuro is a remarkably beautiful album, emotionally charged and superbly composed. This is a high mark in Sanfilippo’s ongoing evolution as an artist.
As much as I want to hear what he will do next and where he will take his listeners, I could certainly use more of the kind of music offered here. Put on this deeply contemplative album, pour yourself a glass of wine (perhaps a nice Spanish Rioja or Argentine Malbec…) and open your heart to ClarOscuro. A truly magnificent work.