Giancinto Scelsi  CD Cover art

Tre Canti Popolari

Due Componimenti Impetuosi

Sub Rosa record

  • Tre Canti Popolari: Marianne Pousseur – soprano, Lucy Grauman – alto, Vincent Bouchot – baritone, Paul Gérimon – bass
  • Duo:  Georg-Alexander Van Dam – violin, Jean-Paul Dessy – cello
  • Wo Ma: Paul Gérimon – bass
  • Sauh:  Marianne Pousseur – soprano, Lucy Grauman – alto
  • Aitsi:   Jean-Luc Fafchamps – piano
  • Sonate #4:  Johan Bossers – piano
  • Suite #11:  Johan Bossers – piano

Vocal chamber music and solo piano works form the bulk of this two disc assortment of Scelsi’s music on Sub Rosa.  Being mostly familiar with Scelsi’s instrumental chamber music, I was anxious to hear how he wrote for unaccompanied voices.  Tre Canti Popolari does not disappoint at all.  All of the focus and dramatic tension from Scelsi’s string quartets is transfered beautifully into the vocal medium.  The four performers sound tremendously good.  The blend is sublime but there is never a sense of monochromaticism.  The vocalists’ sensitivity and balance between independence and ensemble elevate this already stunning composition.  I am also a big fan of the male voice selections, specifically the choice of baritone and bass instead of tenor/bass or tenor/baritone.  Sclesi’s natural darkness gets accentuated by the darker vocal colors.  As enamored as I am with the quartet’s performance, I am equally enamored with Paul Gérimon’s interpretation of Wo Ma and Marianne Pousseur’s and Lucy Grauman’s performance of Sauh. These soulful performances wring every note for its full amount of nuance and emotion.  The only thing better would be hearing it live.

The Duo for violin and cello is a bit of an outlier on this disc being the only work that involves strings.  The piece is well executed and serves as a great sonic break for the vocal pieces.  The composition is lithe and intense, disquieting and expressive.  The first disc closes with the solo piano work Aitsi and Scelsi’s piano music, once again, has the ability to captivate with extremely little surface activity.  The opening punctuations of Aitsi are sudden and harsh, at first obscuring the delicious amplified distortion.  After several thwacks, though, the vibrant electronic sounds nourish the chords into longer and richer lifespans.

Disc two of this set is comprised of solo piano works composed about a decade before anything on the first CD (with the exception of the short 2 years between Suite #11 and Tre Canti Popolari).  In Piano Sonata #4, from 1942, I can hear the aural conflict between the musical language of the time and the language Scelsi would later develop.  The first movement is thorny and jagged but the low register melody meanders in an unusually drunken-yet-focused way.  Movement two, with its open harmonies and tenderly dark melody, hints at the expressive power of his later compositions while the final movement is spastic and rough with a singular trajectory.

Suite #11 is a real trip.  To my ears, I hear Scelsi experimenting with alternate ways of organizing and expressing his musical nature.  Each of the nine movements contains a stream-of-consciousness feel that keeps the piece, however loosely, from breaking apart into musical atoms.  The energies present in the piece reminds me of the rugged atonal expressionist American composers from the early 20th century such as Ruggles and Ornstein – the time when free atonality was brash and expansive instead of smug and superior (but maybe I’m romanticizing that a bit).  Suite #11 is wild, unhinged, and Johan Bossers plays it with the right amount of control and furor.

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