The Orchestral Works 2
Quattro Pezzi (su una nota sola) (1959) (16:54)
for 25 musicians
Peter Rundel, conductor
1st Movement (2:56)
2nd Movement (4:49)
3rd Movement (4:27)
4th Movement (4:41)
Uaxuctum-The Legend of the Mayan City which they themselves destroyed for religious reasons (1966) (21:14)
for ondes Martenot, seven percussionists, timpanist, chorus and 23 musicians
Peter Rundel, conductor
1st Movement (6:13)
2nd Movement (3:59)
3rd Movement (3:43)
4th Movement (3:12)
5th Movement (4:07)
Concentus Vocalis, Chorusmaster: Herbert Böck
La nascita del Verbo (1946-48) (31:58)
for chorus and large orchestra
Johannes Kalitzke, conductor
1st Movement (6:34)
2nd Movement (6:00)
3rd Movement (8:09)
4th Movement (11:15)
Wiener Kammerchor, Chorusmaster: Michael Grohotolsky
Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra
The first recording of his 32-minute grand cantata La nascita del Verbo. Steeped in chromaticism, with hints of Scriabin and a sea of percussion, Nascita boasts a vast double fugue (one of the most imposing in the history of music) and a forty-seven voice canon in twelve keys. This work, "truly written in blood," left Scelsi "in a deplorable state," afterwards he stopped composing for several years.
One of Scelsi's infamous pieces is the Quattro Pezzi (su una nota sola). Each piece is limited to one pitch with micro-fluctuations of sound (vibratos, slurs, spectral changes, tremolos...). Because of the nearly total abandonment of harmonics, the listener concentrates on new sonorous subtleties, on the orchestra's timbre as a whole.
In 1966, he completed the ferocious, tormented, complex Uaxuctum. The myths and mysteries of this Mayan city is reflected in Scelsi's compositional process: new instrumental and vocal techniques (breathing noises, nasal sounds, muted or inhaled gutturals...), rhythmic incantations, a petrified flow of time. Few woodwinds, a string section consisting of six double basses, lots of brass, and, in addition to a timpanist, no less than seven percussionists!
Hi-resolution 48khz/24-bit recording.
Also available on surround-sound DVD.
(NOTE: the DVD contains no video)
The Orchestral Works 2
The Works for Double Bass
The quintessential Quattro Pezzi (su una nota sola) lay bare Scelsi's techniques, aims and concerns. While Schoenberg, Boulez and Cage brought to the 20th century new organizational strategies, Scelsi sidestepped their advances through a fundamental reappraisal of pitch and instrumental color. Webern's Klangfarbenmelodie may have arrived there first, however Scelsi went to an extreme by devoting entire movements to a single pitch. A primal force exhorts the Quattro Pezzi's F, B, A-flat and A towards purity as 25 musicians, predominantly winds, snake though gouging harmonic shifts and microtonal distemper. His precisely notated scores explicitly specify quarter-tone inflections, types of vibrato, mutes, dynamics, etc. Crisp unisons materialize but are soon abandoned for eviscerating tremolos and detuned shrieks, thus avoiding the security of harmonic completeness.
Intended or not, this mode orchestral release hangs heavy with the pallor of sickness and death. La nascita del Verbo preceded Scelsi's mental collapse in the late 1940s. He cured himself, so the story goes, by continuously playing the same piano note for days on end. Oriental philosophy filtered in as well. Quattro Pezzi represents his recovery's culmination. The anguished Uaxuctum's subtitle, The Legend of the Mayan City which they themselves destroyed for religious reasons, perpetuates the obsessions.
In their Quattro Pezzi, Rundel and the Vienna Radio Symphony position us cautiously at the abyss' edge. The live recording enshrines coughs and shuffling, the effect of which diminishes choral aspirations in the eruptive Uaxuctum whose five movements careen towards destruction. After Quattro Pezzi Scelsi permitted himself a greater array of pitches, always handled with meticulous care. Uaxuctum writhes in the presence of death, its wailing ondes Martenot a stern sibyl. These DVD-Audio recordings possess the best clarity around, vastly superior to Hans Zender's cautious 1978 Quattro Pezzi on cpo 999 485-2 or even Jürg Wyttenbach's classic yet overly reverberant Quattro Pezzi and Uaxuctum on Accord 200612.
This first recording of La nascita del Verbo suggests truculence. Its intoxicating jumble of expressionism, Wagnerian bluster and complex canons aligns it with similar creation myths by Leifs and Langgaard. Grandiose and colorful passages compare with Scriabin and Messiaen, with strange chorus murmurings suggesting B-movie sound effects. Beyond the work's fervency, it's hard to find the mature Scelsi, suggesting rather that he wasn't quite all there.
Scelsi solo and chamber pieces routinely stretch individual limits by requiring non-standard techniques from tapping to vocalization. On the surface, the works' short lengths suggest miniatures, and yet, because Scelsi abandoned traditional forms and edged closer to improvisation, his works are expansive despite their brevity.
The two-movement Nuits (C'est bien la nuit and Le Réveil profond) emerges as an abstract, somewhat traditional bass solo. Black's riveting performance delivers floor-rattling low notes, the full-throated upper range betraying none of the nasality of Joëlle Léandre's 1993 hat release (hat ART CD 6124).
Ko-Tha requires that the bass be lowered to the ground and treated percussively. Black employs bassist Fernando Grillo's arrangement of these Three Dances of Shiva, originally scored for guitar, to be played across the lap. In 1988, percussionist Maurizio Ben Omar used an amplified guitar on INA Mémoire Vive 262009. Black's realization is darker, less attributable to a stringed instrument. Grillo's 1976 performance on the second disc of col legno's 50 Jahre Neue Musik in Darmstadt (set: WWE 4CD 31893; single disc: WWE 1CD 31895) seems preoccupied with exotic sound production and sits closer to works by Lachenmann, Xenakis and Cage in the same release (it's also a single 7:13 track whereas Black clearly delineates three: 8:14, 2:19 and 3:44).
Two duets receive their first recordings: the cello and bass Dharana and the double-bass duet Kshara. Titled in Sanskrit, both course slowly though quarter- and eighth-tones under precisely specified vibrato. Practically a palindrome, Dharana represents the initial stage in deep meditation. A delicately warped unison occupies Kshara's center. Scelsi cleverly applies scordatura so that some notes resonate while others pass dully. The cello-bass duet Et maintenant c'est à vous de jouer... soars through long double-stops.
Black's gutteral cries in Maknongon will startle. Specified for "any low instrument or voice," some performers take the less satisfying non-vocal route: Michel Tavernier on bassoon (ADDA 581 189), Uli Fussenegger on double bass (Kairos 0012162KAI), Giancarlo Sciaffini on bass tuba and Nicolas Isherwood's bass voice (both on hat ART CD 6124). This latter hat release has a third realization, bassist Joëlle Léandre whose deep groaning unfairly suggests Yoko Ono.
Scored for an odd trio of mistuned and amplified harp, bass and tam-tam, Okanagon clings to indeterminate nether regions recalling Mahler's "Der Abschied"'s lugubrious halting opening. A central tapping episode reinforces Scelsi's "heartbeat of the earth." The set closes with the melodic Mantram which swirls both jazz and oriental languors.
--- Grant Chu Covell, La Folia online review, March 2008
The Orchestral Works 2
Most composers' centenaries are marked by a flurry of celebratory discs, but in the case of Giacinto Scelsi, it was the centenary (in 2005) that seems to have prodded the companies into commemorating him. The results are appearing only now, though the Mode collection of orchestral works is the sixth release in its Scelsi series.
Since his death in 1988, few composers of the 20th century have polarised opinion more radically than Scelsi; there are a number of significant figures, led by the late Gyorgy Ligeti and also including French spectralists such as Grisey and Murail, who have cited him as an important influence, while others have dismissed his music (around 120 pieces published, with more still in manuscript) as little more than the work of a charlatan. Certainly, the sense of holy writ that some of the more extreme Scelsi supporters promote and write about with such rapture is hard to stomach. At the same time, there is something undeniably powerful about the best of his music when you hear it performed with the devotional fervour he seemed to demand of his interpreters.
The orchestral disc is the most varied of the three, and offers perhaps the best introduction to Scelsi's strange, quasi-mystical world. The Four Pieces on a Single Note, from 1959, is arguably his best known work; Uaxuctum, his 1966 evocation of a Mayan civilisation, includes a chorus and an ondes martenot in the aural mix.
Most intriguing of all is La Nascita del Verbo, for chorus and orchestra. Composed in 1947, it was the last score Scelsi completed before he suffered a complete mental breakdown. What came after his recovery was something totally different from the rather earnest neoclassicism of that work, and couched in its own, personal musical terms.
--- Andrew Clements, The Guardian, 1 June 2007
The Orchestral Works 2
Mode's Scelsi series reaches Volume 6 with three recordings made live at the Wien Modern festival in November 2005, featuring the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, Concentus Vocalis and Wiener Kammerchor conducted by Peter Rundel and Johannes Kalitzke. Scelsi junkies will probably already have their copy by now, as the disc features the world premiere recording of the epic cantata for chorus and orchestra La nascita del Verbo, which was written between 1946 and 1948 and first performed a year later at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris (where, you will recall, Stravinsky's Sacre provoked a legendary riot at its premiere) conducted by Roger Desormière. It's an impressively weighty piece, the composition of which apparently plunged the composer into a period of creative crisis, but one whose orchestration and material - there's even a fully-fledged double fugue - looks back to the sprawling early 20th century choral works instead of forward into the brave new world of microtonality and "spherical sound" that the composer subsequently explored. The quintessential Scelsi orchestral masterpiece, Quattro Pezzi (su una nota solo), which dates from barely a decade later, is in another galaxy altogether. This remarkable work still sounds amazing nearly fifty years after it was written, and its exploration of microtonal and timbral nuances paved the way for Grisey, Murail and Radulescu (and I don't agree with Jean-Noël van der Weid that musique spectrale is an inept name for their music) and is one of late 20th century music's greatest treasures. I'm not sure the work has ever been recorded as well as it deserves to be - I don't know how many mics the Viennese techies had at their disposal but some of the myriad nuances sound a little far back in the mix - but Peter Rundel's reading of the piece is certainly as sensitive to detail as the other available recording of the work in my collection, conducted by Jurg Wyttenbach, which featured the orchestra and chorus of Polish Radio in Cracow. Without wishing to cast aspersions on them and the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra on this new recording, it'd be great if one day the work could be recorded by a truly major league outfit with a huge budget - and no audience: sorry to come across all Keith Jarrett-like, but the coughs and splutters, not that there are many of them, are somewhat distracting. As Joëlle Léandre (quoted by van der Weid in his liners) rightly states, your perception becomes so intense when performing and listening to Scelsi's music that you actually become sound itself, as it were, and the bronchial spasms of the Viennese concertgoers do tend to break the spell a bit. Still, I'm not complaining. Especially since the disc also includes Uaxuctum (1966), subtitled The Legend of the Mayan City which they themselves destroyed for religious reasons, another monsterpiece for ondes Martenot, seven percussionists, timpani and 23-piece ensemble. In terms of both its scoring (chorus, ondes Martenot) and Mayan inspiration it makes for an interesting comparison with Varèse's 1934 Ecuatorial - was Scelsi familiar with the earlier work? van der Weid makes no mention of the piece in his essay - but where Varèse's setting of the Popul Vuh was taut and wiry, Scelsi is grim and dramatic, all sinister pedal points and rolling timpani thunder. Oddly enough, it seems to have dated a little more than the Quatro Pezzi, and though its harmonic language is far removed from the world of La nascita del Verbo, it shares with the earlier work a strong sense of theatricality ("horror movie music!" my eight-year-old described it, enthusiastically). Since Scelsi's oeuvre was taken up enthusiastically by a younger generation of self-proclaimed tone scientists it's been all too easy to overlook its raw gut power. This fine disc serves as a timely reminder how overwhelmingly emotional his music is. Here's to Volume 7.
--- Dan Warburton, www.paristransatlantic.com/, February 2007
Also by Giacinto Scelsi on Mode Records:
The Piano Works 1 (mode 92)
The Orchestral Works 1 (mode 95)
Music For High Winds (mode 102)
The Piano Works 2 (mode 143)
The Piano Works 3 (mode 159)
The Works for Double Bass (mode 188)
Haydee Schvartz: New Piano Works From Europe and The Americas
Also by Johannes Kalitzke on Mode Records:
Chaya Czernowin: Shu Hai Practices Javelin (mode 117)
Stefan Wolpe: Wolpe in Jerusalem (mode 156)
Iannis Xenakis: Music for Strings (mode 152)
Johannes Kalitzke Profile
Peter Rundel Profile
Giacinto Scelsi Profile
© Mode Records