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Tre Canti Popolari Due Componimenti Impetuosi

Release Date: 03/16/2010 
Label:  Sub Rosa   Catalog #: 302  
Composer:  Giacinto Scelsi
Performer:  Giacinto ScelsiJean-Paul DessyGeorg-Alexander van DamMarianne Pousseur,   ... 
Number of Discs: 2 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SCELSI 3 Canti Populari 1,2,3,4. Duo. 5,6 Wo Ma. 4 Sauh 1,2. Aitsi 7. Piano Sonata No. 4 8. Suite No. 11 8 1 Marianne Pousseur (s); 2 Read more class="ARIAL12">Lucy Grauman (a); 3 Vincent Bouchot (ten); 4 Paul Gérmion (b); 5 Georg-Alexander Van Dam (vn); 6 Jean-Paul Dessy (vc); 7 Jean-Luc Fafchamps, 8 Johan Bossiers (pn) SUB ROSA 302 (2 CDs: 102:25)

We’ve had an avalanche of Scelsi recordings over the last decade. [Oops, don’t know him? Italian composer (1905–88), aristocrat, hermit, aesthete, and connoisseur of Middle Eastern musics, developer of a highly ornamented language of “pure sound,” which has been influential on successive generations of composers, especially in Europe.] So to stand out there needs to be some new perspective. This release has it, though its two CDs are a mixed bag.

The revelation for me is disc 1. This consists mostly of vocal works. I knew some of the composer’s big choral writing, such as Konx-Om-Pax , and also the Canti del Capricorno for solo soprano, but these solo and chamber pieces still open up new vistas for how we conceive of the human voice. If there are texts, they’re not intelligible, and frankly I assume their “language” is a phonemic vocabulary constructed by the composer to serve the expressive needs. There are drones, blends, inflections, groans and moans, but all subtly synthesized so as to present a fluid whole. There’s nothing cheap or sensationalistic about the sound. All the performances are outstanding, but I find Paul Gérmion’s performance of Wo Ma extraordinary. Also, Tre Canti Popolari (which don’t sound like pop songs, but perhaps belong to some ancient folk tradition yet to be discovered) sound to me like a model for a new madrigal, and as such make me start to rethink Scelsi’s place within the grand Italian tradition thereof. (The string duo is also compelling, very much in the spirit of Scelsi’s string quartets.)

Scelsi’s great breakthrough occurred in the late 1950s, in part when he began to improvise and transcribe the results; this in turn, perhaps apocryphally, came after a nervous breakdown, during which he played and listened obsessively to a single repeated piano pitch while institutionalized. The 1974 Aitsi seems to draw on this experience, and is a piano work like no other I’ve heard. It consists of a recurring cluster that is fed through electronic processing to distort it. The effect, so simple that it should wear out its welcome quickly, is instead gripping, even terrifying. The second disc is devoted entirely to piano music, including the Sonata No. 4 of 1942 and the Suite No. 11 of 1956. The former shows Scelsi’s deep attraction to Scriabin, and it’s somewhat overcharged and rambling in its outer movements. In its slow center, though, it hits a mark with repeated dark chords out of which spins a lyric line. The Suite is more problematic for me. Highly “clustery” and ecstatic/demonic, it sounds too much like someone banging away with less purpose than needed. In fact, listening to this piece, it’s possible to see why some assumed the composer was a madman, a kind of outsider artist but without a defining spark of genius. That would certainly be too harsh (and incorrect), considering the remarkable music soon to emerge. But it does say something about a composer’s finding a proper medium of expression. I’ve heard a fair amount of Scelsi’s earlier piano music, and my impression is always that there’s something there, but not yet. Pianist Jean-Luc Fafchamps, who’s also the annotator, speaks of the highly improvisatory nature of this music, and he’s right. But frankly I’d rather listen to Cecil Taylor if I want this sort of excess. The piano just wasn’t the right instrument for Scelsi’s vision; it was too constrained by its fixed pitches and instantaneous decay. Only as he moved into a world of sustained sounds did he discover the necessary sonic plasticity he needed to create a truly original world.

Having said that, this is a very worthy release, in particular for the vocal music.

FANFARE: Robert Carl
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Works on This Recording

Canti populari (3) by Giacinto Scelsi
Performer:  Giacinto Scelsi ()
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1958 
Length: 3 Minutes 34 Secs. 
Duo for violin & cello (or bass) by Giacinto Scelsi
Performer:  Jean-Paul Dessy (Cello), Giacinto Scelsi (), Georg-Alexander van Dam (Violin)
Period: Modern 
Written: 1965 
Length: 9 Minutes 25 Secs. 
Sauh I & II "Liturgy", for 2 female voices by Giacinto Scelsi
Performer:  Marianne Pousseur (), Giacinto Scelsi ()
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 1973 
Length: 11 Minutes 9 Secs. 
Aitsi by Giacinto Scelsi
Performer:  Jean-Luc Fafchamps (Piano), Giacinto Scelsi ()
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1974 
Length: 6 Minutes 22 Secs. 
Wo-Ma by Giacinto Scelsi
Performer:  Paul Gerimon (), Giacinto Scelsi ()
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1960 
Length: 3 Minutes 2 Secs. 
Sonata for Piano no 4 by Giacinto Scelsi
Performer:  Johan Bossiers (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1941; Switzerland 
Suite for Piano no 11 by Giacinto Scelsi
Performer:  Johan Bossiers (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1956 

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