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Scelsi for Viola & Double Bass

The Works for Viola

Giacinto SCELSI:
Manto (1957) first recording with male voice
Coelocanth* (1955)
Elegia per Ty (1958) for viola & cello – with Séverine Ballon, cello
Three Studies (1956) first recording
Xnoybis (1964) first recording

Vincent Royer, viola & voice

mode 231 (CD - Volume 9 of Mode’s Scelsi Edition)

* q.v Mieko Kanno: Concepts of Rhythm in Performing Scelsi's Coelocanth

Another fine collection in Mode's ongoing Scelsi collection, usefully bringing together his viola works. The Elegia per Ty is a reminder of his short lived marriage, and could be a good item to interpose in a string quartet recital?

Coelocanth was reviewed live by Musical Pointers at Goldsmiths College and I recommend Mieko Kanno's analysis of it at the link above. The fast and furious studies are transcribed from Scelsi's "ecstatic wildness", improvising on his "ondiola".

A must for violists looking to extend their repertoire.

Peter Grahame Woolf

The works for Double Bass

(1972) I. C'est bien la nuit (2:49) II. Le Reveil profond (6:00) Et maintenant c'est à vous de jouer... (1974) (6:21) Robert Black, double bass Ko-Tha "Three Dances of Shiva" (1967) transcription for double bass by Fernando Grillo (8:14, 2:19, 3:44) Robert Black, double bass First Recording Dharana (1975) (8:49) for cello and double bass Robert Black, double bass Felix Fan, cello First Recording Maknongon (1976) (4:29) for any low instrument (or bass voice) Robert Black, double bass Kshara (1975) (2:56, 5:38, 5:07) for two double basses Robert Black, double bass John Eckhardt, double bass First Recording Okanagon (1968) (9:07) for harp, double bass and tam-tam Robert Black, double bass June Han, harp Tom Kolor, tam-tam Mantram (undated) (4:47) Robert Black, double bass

mode 188 (Mode Scelsi Edition volume 7)

This CD is the first recording of Scelsi's compositions for double bass, and as such it is a must have for any contemporary music or double bass enthusiast.

I had understandably very high expectations prior to listening, and I am pleased to say that I was not disappointed at all even after several hearings!

Most of these works were composed in Scelsi’s “trademark” phase when the composer crafted whole pieces based on single tones. This explains the strong monodic character of these works even when the double bass is joined by other instruments. Consequently, the performer’s ability to convey changes of timbre, colour, dynamics and sound quality as well as microtonal fluctuations (that in some cases reach eighths of the tone) is of the utmost necessity when interpreting this music and essential in revealing the composer’s true intentions.

Mr Black does a superb job conveying all these aspects; his experience in collaborating with distinctly diverse and contrasting artists, and his strong familiarity with improvised music as well (he is a regular member of the Bang on a Can All-Stars) must have come handy in helping him realise and project the pure essence of this music.

Trying to show that “whole universes can exist in these single sounds” is no easy task, but Mr Black does a great job attempting to achieve this end. I was particularly curious to listen to Ko-Tha which I myself had performed in its original version for amplified guitar. I could imagine that a transcription (or adaptation rather) from that version could well be suited for the bass or cello, since in the original the guitar is played resting on its back on the performer’s knees, as a resonating “string percussion” instrument. I have subsequently found this version for double bass highly successful as all the percussive effects now acquire a wonderful new resonance, facilitated by the instrument’s large body.

In Okanagon June Han on harp and Tom Kolor on tam tam show themselves as sensitive musicians and very experienced chamber music performers too. The overall ensemble in this, the only work on the disc for three instruments, is superb and very well balanced; all three breathe as one and control all their sounds so as to create one new unified artificial timbre. The same is true of course for bassist John Eckhardt and cellist Felix Fan, who interact magnificently in the duos and demonstrate that they too musicians of the highest calibre.   

Evis Sammoutis

Betsy Jolas
: Episode huitième
Giacinto Scelsi: Nuits
                            I    C'est bien la nuit
                            II   Le Réveil profond
John Cage: The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs
Jacob Druckman: Valentine
Joëlle Leandre: Réflexions
Sylvano Bussotti: Naked Angel face
Giacinto Scelsi: Maknongon
John Cage: A Flower
Sharon Kanach: J'ai tant Rêvé oëlle Léandre, Double Bass & voice

Joëlle Léandre, double bass & voice.

Adda 581043 [released1988 - information about availability would be appreciated]

Joëlle Léandre iis rightly considered one of the most experienced and accomplished bassists of the twentieth century, as revisiting this now nearly 20-year old CD confirms - is it still available??

The project consisted of works for solo bass together with works that incorporate the instrument and the performer’s voice.

Ms Léandre was the dedicatee and had in fact premiered some of Scelsi’s works for the double bass, including Et maintenant c'est à vous de jouer in Paris in 1979, and it is no surprise to find that the composer represented here with two works.

C'est bien la nuit, Scelsi’s follows very naturally after Betsy Jolas’ well crafted, imaginative and sensitively performed Episode huitième for solo double bass. The second part of Nuits though (Le Réveil profound) is a different matter, very static and highly meditative. Joëlle Léandre does just enough to provide contrast and variety truthful to Scelsi’s vision and always within the character of the work.

After Cage’s The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs, where Léandre gets the chance to demonstrate some really lyrical and melodic vocal qualities, Jacob Druckman’s Valentine is one of the more experimental works on this disc. Druckman’s use of voice is sometimes organically related to the sounds from the bass whilst at others almost completely independent. On hearing this work one cannot help himself from visualising and imagining how a performance of this work could have looked.

This is of course a very old but equally crucial argument within certain musical circles, and that is whether pieces like these would benefit from being presented on a DVD rather than a CD. The same is the case in Léandre’s own composition using her voice once again very effectively; Réflexions is a very theatrical work where, similar to Druckman’s piece, the performer’s gestures and overall presence become an inseparable part of the composition itself. I would be thrilled to experience both these works in live performances.

Busotti’s quieter but very atmospheric Naked Angel face is for bass only; a nice contrast to the previous highly charged and energetic music but also as an excellent link to the beginning of Scelsi’s second work on this disc, Maknongon. It is difficult to compare this performance and that here of Nuits with those on Robert Black's CD as both were highly enjoyable and convincing in their own ways. Passion and technical accomplishment are very evident in both discs; however, even though many interpretational directions are similar, they still feel uniquely distinct and individual but equally inspiring. My only reservation (before listening to Léandre’s performance) had been whether a woman’s “hoarsely scream” in Maknongon would be as convincing as that of a man. I was pleasantly surprised to realise that it was extremely effective, Léandre’s voice adding a more mystical witch-like quality, which was very appropriate for the piece.

John Cage’s A Flower was equally haunting and enjoyable; the performer’s voice and “percussion” accompaniment were in perfect balance. The last work by Sharon Kanach has more similarities to the way that Jacob Druckman’s work unfolds. The narrative and poetic intentions are somehow quite similar but still, on closer inspection, also very different as this works develops more fragmentally. Here again Joëlle Léandre gives a highly committed and energetic performance of another work I would love to see live!

Overall, this is a CD that deserves special attention as it is one of these rare examples that show how wonderful and rich a double bass may sound given the hands of wonderful musicians and the imagination of first class composers. In my opinion, both Joëlle Léandre as well as Robert Black are two of the most remarkable and ideal interpreters and exponents of Scelsi’s music. Their attention to detail and choice of colours, their intensity of playing and meticulous sense of shape are qualities of truly great musicians.

Evis Sammoutis