Review Summary: Minimalism at its finest.
In the context of music, the word classical
is tossed around nowadays by culturally ignorant people as though any singularly piano piece falls under this category. In reality, however, music, from a classical
musician's point of view falls into four (arguably five) time-dependent subdivisions, one of which is classical.
Of these subdivisions, Einaudi and other modern musicians are classified as contemporary. Piano music, and indeed the entire genre of the sort of instrumental music referred to as classical, does not differ much from contemporary pop, rock, and hip-hop based albums, in that the music, depending on the artist, can be appreciated from a melodic standpoint or from a technical standpoint. Understanding this is key to enjoying Ludovico Einaudi's music. Just as one does not listen to pop music (to which his music can be compared) expecting the instrumentals of a heavy metal band, one cannot listen to Einaudi expecting anything except the genre within which he creates his music.
The precise movement to which he belongs is minimalism (which entails nearly exactly what it suggests), and listening to the first few seconds of the title track and album opener proves why. The simpleness of the introduction, and indeed the song as a whole, set the tone of the album in the manner. However, the arpeggio-driven melody remains tranquil, calm, and nearly bland, with little variation in dynamics. This is unlike Einaudi's music as a whole, which focuses itself on beautiful melodies---melodies that urge any experienced pianist to find and learn it himself. This quality serves as the music's greatest strength, and all of the strong songs of the album express them.
As with all popular music that depends on the strength of its primary melody (almost always in the form of the right hand), variation and depth are necessary for the album to succeed, and these definitely exist. While the likes of A Fuoco display the ambiguity of tonality (containing elements of both major and minor traits in them) and thus portraying neither pure happiness nor pure melancholy, the dominant use of minor in Dietro Casa expresses a sort of longing, perhaps of homesickness, as its title suggests. In addition, as shown in DNA, the cello serves as excellent counter-melody in the album when necessary, but Einaudi manages to avoid overuse of cello; as a whole, this song has perhaps the saddest melody of the entire album.
The greatest shortcoming is an unfortunate but inevitable by-product of such a concept for an album. Contrast Leo with Questa Volta; both are heavy on emotion and simple from a technical standpoint, just as minimalistic music should be, and the line between mellow and boring, between convincing and contrived is very thin. Neither song relies on dynamics to build up, yet Questa Volta makes use of pauses to make its message more believable. That's not say Leo is a bad song---one can argue that none of the songs are. Yet in terms of the melody, and the underlying factors comprise and strengthen the melody, songs like Leo and the opener fall short. Perhaps other songs, introspective as they are, may also fail to capture the listener's attention because they forsake catchiness (which often includes going for the altogether too common chord progressions) for a more unique sound.
Nevertheless, for each listener, at least a few songs ultimately would resonate with him, based on the listener's psyche. This is where Einaudi most succeeds. Sure, a classical
composer like Mozart would have added more embellishments, pushed the tempo, and perhaps better exhibited the dexterity of his fingers, but that's not what Einaudi strives towards in his music. The pinnacle of perhaps his musical career and certainly this album is Nuvole Bianche, found on the soundtrack of Insidious. It contains an unforgettable melody (much like Yiruma
's River Flows in You), but also elements of Baroque style (with its polyphonic phrasing) that add to the overall feel. Indeed, this song typifies what any minimalist composer should strive for, and indeed even Beethoven himself would have been dazzled by its sheer beauty.
Piano music may not be for everyone, and even those that enjoy it may disapprove of its simpleness. But for anyone looking for beautiful music, look no farther. You'll find something you love.