Alex Masi - In the Name of Beethoven
I admit that I do respect such musicians like Mr. Masi, because he is one of those who combine classical music with hard'n'heavy subgenre. In such a way, he proves a nearness of both genres.
Alex was born in Italy. His home city is romantic Venice. Alex's father, who is a painter and a historian, had a great influence on him. In other words, a prospective virtuoso was grown up in artistic environment. Firstly, he learned Johann Sebastian Bach's output, and only later he encountered rock and hard rock. It would have not been strange, if a person who introduced him to the arcanes of heavier music, had been older brother or colleague. It turned out that an individual responsible for it was... a housekeeper. It doesn't sound solemnly, but Alex, thanks to her, discovered new forms of musical expression. Nevertheless, he started to play the piano, and later he reached for more rock-ish instruments, i.e. percussion and guitar. In that time, Alex remained under Ritchie Blackmore's influence including progressive rock bands. In the early times of his youth, he founded a band called Ruins, but didn't gain publicity. In the meantime, he graduated from Conservatory in Verona in which could learn secrets of jazz music. He didn't become a jazzman, but don't worry about it, please. In the eighties, Italy wasn't the best place to play heavy tones, so a musician decided to move to London, where he was directly struck by New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Infected with metal virus, Alex came back home and formed Dark Lord (1984). The group recorded two EPs and played gigs with, among others, Saxon, Motörhead and Gary Moore. Two years passed on, so Mr. Masi tried his luck at playing in Los Angeles. He founded MASI there and recorded two CDs under that name. The crucial fact is nomination of "Attack of the Neon Shark" (1989) for the Grammy Prize. It was really good times, because honourable mention and even winning the prize was more likely than currently. At present it is practically impossible. In the past, we could see a clip to MASI's "God Promised a Paradise" in MTV, but nowadays young presenters probably have the faintest idea of that one. We cannot forget that Masi is also a classical musician, who performed with the orchestra of Stuttgart.
Approaching to the end of this story, we get into the eighties, when first ideas of recording a classical trilogy started to bring to Alex's mind. The holy trinity for an Italian have always been Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven, therefore he began releasing mentioned idea according to his plan. "In the Name of Bach" was published in 2001 (its metal version was titled "Steel String Bach"), three years later "In the Name of Mozart" appeared on the market, but, for the time being, I'd like to write about the third part of trilogy - dedicated to Beethoven. Let me scribble further and come back to the year 2004. It is also an essential year when Masi met with two friends - John Macaluso and Randy Coven - and recorded together with them M.C.M.'s "Ritual Factory". There you can hear his fascination in African and Asian music mixed with progression.
Analysing Masi's artistic activity, we could expect that something "classically-coloured" would be recorded in the future. I conclude that from the classical excerpts he played on past albums, for instance - "Toccata" from "Attack of the Neon Shark" and "Ave Maria" from "The Watcher".
"In the Name of Beethoven" begins with "Symphony no. 5 in C-minor, op. 67", and concretely its first movement "Allegro con brio" (fast with verve). The composition performed on classical guitar lost no significant elements from its originally orchestral form. We should remember that its piano transcription was once done by Franz Liszt. Alex recorded two guitar tracks and juxtaposed them in such a way that the composition reminds me a dialogue between those instruments. Italian often applies repetitions of leitmotif. The next one is the first of 32 Beethoven's sonatas, that is "Sonata in C major" - so-called "Waldstein Sonata". I think that we can add to it a qualification "stringendo subito", because just sudden accelerations are the most characteristic factors to the composition. It is played briskly and sparkingly. Further is "Romance for Violin no. 5", i.e. a melodious composition, played in slow tempo. Alex introduced electric guitar that gave that romance more piteous character. Every tune is being brought out with the highest precision, distinctly separating a tone from another one. Last three tracks are, in fact, three parts of "Sonata in C sharp minor, op. 27", better known as "Moonlight Sonata". Its first movement - "Adagio sostenuto" is very characteristic, played slowly and calmly. It is similar with the second one, "Allegretto", but I most liked its ending - "Rondo Agitato" in which constant chorus alternates with couplets (in the meaning of episodes). That stormy fragment is well-known for Ukrainian keyboard virtuoso's interpretation by Vitalij Kuprij. The difference lies in the fact that Vitalij took the liberty of playing variations, however Alex is a purist, strongly holding on to the originals.
The album was started with a thunder and crowned with the same nature's sign. The beginning is equally solemn to its pathetic ending. Here are not many improvisations, but my hunger for music was satisfied by faithful arrangements. I think highly of his grand technique, a precision in performing of arch-difficult compositions and a true mastery. Some reviewers criticized him for classical guitar, but a musician replied himself to those groundless accusations explaining that "music is a form of art and free in its expression". By the way, he also mentioned an "obsession for categorisation in music". Alex Masi is a musician with a spirit of a real artist, although he can also swear, but who's perfect? He doesn't collect guitars as Malmsteen is used to do, but treats his instruments as practical tools to creating the music. In his meditations, he wrote about very important problem that is related with the lack of understanding from the artist's standpoint. That's the way it is, because some music creators are ahead of their epochs. He can ask for very essential matters: "if people, who considered Van Gogh a freak and moved back from him, would behave in the same way, having an awareness that his canvasses would worth millions in a few hundred years?". He called, as an example, Bach's widow who, even thought being a wife of genius, was forced to beg to outlive. There are not many people in the world who wouldn't once hear composer's name at least. Personally, I hope that an Italian guitar virtuoso records an album dedicated to one of Polish composers, for instance - Frederic Chopin or Christopher Penderecki, because they were mentioned among Alex's inspirations. The one is sure - Mr. Masi announced that he would carry on recording similar CDs, referring to different historical periods. I am really finishing writing this review, but I can only now put a dot with a clear conscience. Phew!!!