Giacinto Scelsi
The Works for Double Bass

Nuits (1972)
I. C’est bien la nuit
II. Le Reveil profond
Et maintenant c’est í  vous de jouer… (1974)
Robert Black, double bass

Ko-Tha “Three Dances of Shiva”
transcription for double bass by Fernando Grillo (8:14, 2:19, 3:44)
Robert Black, double bass
First Recording

Dharana (1975)
for cello and double bass
Robert Black, double bass
Felix Fan, cello
First Recording

Maknongon (1976)
for any low instrument (or bass voice)
Robert Black, double bass

Kshara (1975)
for two double basses
Robert Black, double bass
John Eckhardt, double bass
First Recording

Okanagon (1968)
for harp, double bass and tam-tam
Robert Black, double bass
June Han, harp
Tom Kolor, tam-tam

Mantram (undated)
Robert Black, double bass

Mode Records

I knew some of Scelsi’s music when I was much younger, such as Anahit and kinda liked it, but didn’t get seriously involved with Scelsi’s vast oeuvre until the past year or two, and at this point probably have nearly everything that has been released. Or at least I thought I pretty much had it all until I came across this recording of music for contrabass as expertly performed by Robert Black and a variety of additional performers.

Scelsi, who has been called the “Charles Ives of Italy” (just like Vermeulen is the Charles Ives of The Netherlands). But that really doesn’t do Scelsi justice. Scelsi was a great original, who started writing beautiful, yet conventional, works like his first string quartet, then suffered a nervous breakdown and recuperated by playing one note over and over again. This was at least a decade before La Monte Young was to find his voice with drones and silence. Initially writing Eastern-inspired works for piano, Scelsi became even more taken with writing for single tones as augmented with microtonal glissandi, and gave up writing for the piano for good, favoring strings and winds. He wrote a total of five string quartets and a string trio, which (as in the second string quartet) might involve the use of metallic mutes to modulate string timbres, and (as in the fourth quartet) could even require four staves per instrument (one per string).

This recording is a welcome addition to any serious devotee of Scelsi’s music, and mostly contains works from the later period of his compositional life. Some of these works represent first recordings or (as with Ko-Tha, which I also know as a work for guitar or cello), transcriptions of works. Ko-Tha is particularly noteworthy in that the instrument is played lying on its back and in a percussive fashion.

Scelsi’s music works very well for contrabass, and the virtuosity and interpretive excellence of Robert Black is clearly on display, as it is with all the performers involved in this recording. The performance of Okanagon compares very well with the old LP performance by Ensemble 2e2m, while the recording of Maknongon is somewhat slower than the version for saxophone as recorded by Claude Delangle. Both performances of this work, however, are valid and expertly done, so I can’t say that either one is preferable. That there is more than one performance of any Scelsi work available on recording is a great thing.

So if you already know Scelsi’s music, this recording is a treat and a must-have. If you already don’t know Scelsi’s music, which is one of the most original outputs of the 20th century (up there with Ives, Partch, Nancarrow, Cowell, Feldman and a few others), you should, and this is a good introduction to his incredible and very beautiful music.

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