Posts Tagged “Scelsi”

Manuel Zurria

loops4ever

music for flute and electronics

Mazangran

  • Casaciescelsi – Giancinto Scelsi
  • Portrait – Pauline Oliveros
  • Almost New York – Alvin Lucier
  • Madonna and Child – Alvin Curran
  • The Carnival – John Duncan
  • The Garden of Love – Jacob TV
  • I Will Not Be Sad In This World – Eve Beglarian
  • Lipstick – Jacob TV
  • …Until… – Clarence Barlow
  • A Movement in Chrome Primitive – William Basinski
  • Last Judgement – Frederic Rzewski
  • Dorian Reeds – Terry Riley

There is nothing typical about this 2 disc set. I would submit that when most flutists are putting together a recording project of music for flute and electronics, they would tend to shy away from the majority of the works that Manuel Zurria has so expertly collected and performed. Not only that, Zurria ups the ante by leading off with his own Scelsi-hommage. Casadiscelsi is really a combination of Scelsi’s bass flute work Maknongan and flute work Pwyll with sounds that Zurria himself recorded from Sclesi’s house in Rome. It sets the stage for this whole first disc which is one of luminesce and slow-moving atmospheres. The virtuosity of performance is not one of a million notes per second but one of tone, mood, and environment. Zurria nails it every single time and loops4ever is consistently captivating. In Portrait by Oliveros, Zurria is almost invisible, with the voice taking center stage, yet he could not be removed. Few flutists are brave enough to feature a work like Lucier’s Almost New York for flute and three oscillators, giving up 25 minutes of precious CD space so they can play long tones, but Zurria anchors the first disc around this particular work to great affect. After the Scelsi and the Oliveros, the Lucier is exactly what we want to hear, played in precisely the way we want to hear it.

Curran’s Madonna and Child is a relief from the stasis which culminated in the Lucier but still the work floats in a somewhat restless and rocking manner. Zurria’s bass flute tone is sumptuous and once layered upon itself, the lullaby nature of the piece is exponentially amplified. I couldn’t believe my ears with the last work on the disc, The Carnival by John Duncan. A single sustained piccolo pitch (and not the most comfortable one, I should add) is held, Lucier-style, for 17 minutes. There are gradual spectral and timbral changes through the electronics but for the most part, it is a monolith of piercing brightness. Imagine a piccolo arrangement of Lucier’s Silver Streetcar. I don’t mean any of this is a bad way, although some folks will be quick to skip this track. The Carnival is an amazing listen, the perfect tonic/alarm clock to the slumber found in the Curran.

Disc two contains works that are more expected of a “flute and electronics” recording. Zurria has packed in more peppy and traditionally-technical works with the same quality of performance found in disc one. Jacob TV’s works are rhythmic and cool, quirky and spiky with the electronic component coming almost exclusively from voice editing while the flute zips out perky punctuations. I Will Not Be Sad in this World by Eve Begrarian is the perfect palate cleanser, silky smooth and tender with subdued sustained vocal manipulations.

Clarence Barlow’s work for piccolo and drone finds the middle ground between Lucier’s work and Berio’s oboe Sequenza. Barlow’s repetitive melodic fragment changes subtly enough to keep me engaged while the drone does what drones do. It was also refreshing to hear a drone in the middle of the flute’s line as opposed to underneath. Once again, Zurria highlights his programming prowess by contrasting the bright sounds of the Barlow with the murky and luxurious sounds of Basinski’s A Movement in Chrome Primitive for bass flute, temple bells, and delays. Rzewski’s Last Judgement uses the bass flute as well but in a more strained and tense register, focusing more on propulsive energy than letting the listener wallow in sound. Either way, Zurria sounds great. Dorian Reeds, originally for soprano sax, gets the final word on the second disc. The overall take on this track uses more reverb than I expected, leaving the different delayed lines a grayish wash instead of dense contrapuntal lines.

The notes for the disc consist mainly of the short interviews that Zurria did with each composer and they make for a compelling read. I find the music and the performances speak for themselves, though. This is a terrific disc full of great repertoire and expertly performed.

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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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