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Scelsi Collection Vol 3 - Ballata, Hymnos, Aion / Ceccherini, Naqqara Percussion Ensemble, Et Al


Release Date: 07/14/2009 
Label:  Stradivarius   Catalog #: 33803   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Giacinto Scelsi
Performer:  Maurizio Ben OmarFrancesco Dillon
Conductor:  Tito Ceccherini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Naqqara Percussion EnsembleItalian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



SCELSI Aiôn. 1 Hymnos. 4 Pezzi. Ballata 2 Tito Ceccherini, cond; Naqqara Perc Ens; 1 Francesco Dillon (vc); 2 RAI Natl SO STRADIVARIUS 33803 (64:00)


Giacinto Scelsi (1905–1988) doesn’t get much live performance in the U.S., but at least his recorded presence continues to grow. His work remains Read more enormously important in Europe, though, where it has influenced a whole generation of composers concerned with the shaping of sound itself as the generative principle of music. The effect of his music is that of a great wave. You can be swamped, overwhelmed by it. Scelsi wrote music influenced by the early 20th-century avant-garde (especially Schoenberg) up till a personal crisis right after World War II, which caused him to rethink completely not just his technique, but also the very reason for writing music. What emerged was a new practice: he improvised extensively, recorded, transcribed, and orchestrated the result. The music thus has an extraordinary flow, seemingly spontaneous. The techniques that generate the sound come very much out of Scelsi’s experience of Middle Eastern travels before the war. There is microtonality, pitch-bending, variable vibrato, constantly changing degrees of articulation (such as tremolo). As a result there’s a sort of plasticity to the sound that few composers previously had even attempted to achieve.


The Four Pieces of 1959 constitute the composer’s most famous breakthrough piece. Each is a fantasia on a single note, though octaves via orchestration are allowed and, in fact, the pitch bending tends to create a “band” about a half step wide on either side of the center pitch. It’s almost perfect for its dimensions (less than 20 minutes), and historically very significant.


Aiôn and Hymnos are from 1961 and 1963 respectively, and are examples of the composer’s mature style in high gear. I find the latter extremely powerful, in part because it strongly projects a peculiar aspect of Scelsi’s technique: i.e., you hear harmonies that sound quite familiar, seeming on the verge of resolution, but they never quite arrive at what you expect. The result isn’t frustrating, but rather dreamlike, as though one is hearing familiar music through the veil of sleep. As such, it’s quite mysterious.


Ballata is the curiosity here, from 1945, before “the break.” This is a short cello concerto in two parts. The style is expressionist, and in its first half I hear Berg as the most evident antecedent—atonal, but not serial. The second half gets even more interesting, with an insistent repeated-note figure, first for just cello and percussion, that grows into a suitably frenzy. It’s a good piece of music, though not as great or original as what was to come. But it does give the lie to a lot of talk (especially coming from his assistants in later years) that Scelsi was a naif who didn’t really know what he was doing. This music is obviously the fruit of a strong artistic character with real chops.


These are all very good performances. While percussion is listed in Aiôn ’s description, and organ in Hymnos ’s, these instruments are still very much part of the ensemble, rather than soloists—perhaps they are in a bit higher “relief.” As far as I can tell, these are the only recordings of Hymnos and Ballata , and each deserves to be in one’s Scelsi collection, the former because it’s a masterpiece, the latter because it’s historically revealing. The disc is also a good introduction to the composer. There will be duplication of certain pieces in any disc that comes out, at least for a while, so don’t let this deter you from purchasing it.


FANFARE: Robert Carl
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Works on This Recording

1. Ballata by Giacinto Scelsi
Performer:  Maurizio Ben Omar (Percussion), Francesco Dillon (Cello)
Conductor:  Tito Ceccherini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Naqqara Percussion Ensemble,  Italian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1946 
2. Hymnos by Giacinto Scelsi
Performer:  Francesco Dillon (Cello), Maurizio Ben Omar (Percussion)
Conductor:  Tito Ceccherini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Naqqara Percussion Ensemble,  Italian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1963; Italy 
3. Aion by Giacinto Scelsi
Performer:  Maurizio Ben Omar (Percussion), Francesco Dillon (Cello)
Conductor:  Tito Ceccherini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Naqqara Percussion Ensemble,  Italian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1961; Italy 

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