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Paul GRIFFITHS and Frances-Marie UITTI [text and music]
There is still time: scenes for speaking voice and cello (1997) [55’19"]
Paul Griffiths (speaker); Frances-Marie Uitti (cello)
Recording: Rainbow Studio, Oslo August 2003 DDD *
ECM NEW SERIES 1882 476 2411 [55’19"]

Normally I’m skeptical of compositions with speech, since they can be difficult to want to hear over and over again. Although Copland’s A Lincoln Portrait has its moments, I feel that I’m hearing a lecture. Recently I had the pleasure of hearing Esa-Pekka Salonen’s tribute to the architect Frank Gehry, Wing on Wing, a fascinating work that incorporates fragments of Gehry’s actual comments talking about the new Disney Concert Hall. Steve Reich’s early works such as Come Out and It’s Gonna Rain are some of the few I can recall in which words actually cross over and are transformed into music.

All this is to say that, despite some initial skepticism, I found this new recording unexpectedly captivating. It is essentially the result of a close collaboration between the outstanding Paul Griffiths (former chief music critic for The New York Times), who did the words, contemporary cello advocate Frances-Marie Uitti who composed the music, and recording producer Manfred Eicher, who apparently provided the place and encouragement for all this interaction to occur.

As a sample, here is the first of the seventeen pieces, one of the shorter ones. It is typical of Griffiths’ quiet, sober introspective outlook:

I cannot remember what hope I may have held out that things would be other than they are
I cannot remember what reason I could have had for such a hope
I cannot remember that there was a reason at all
I cannot remember what thoughts may have been in my mind on this one of all

I first became acquainted with Ms. Uitti’s talent back in the 1990s, in a New York recital of music by Giacinto Scelsi, a haunting but extreme composer whose explorations of single notes and minute details are either fascinating or maddening. (I usually vote for the former.) Here Uitti produces a lovely, warmly ingratiating sound that gives these works every opportunity to sit in the brain and be pondered over. Mr. Griffiths recites these texts with quiet, thoughtful expressiveness, while Ms. Uitti’s passionate cello provides an often more intense counterpoint. For example, consider the second part, think of that day, in which Griffiths’ voice becomes more calm and resolute, while Uitti’s cello line simultaneously ascends and grows ever more passionate, almost piercingly so. Each of the pieces uses calm, carefully placed syllables, almost deadpan in delivery, interwoven with Uitti’s often overwhelmingly emotional playing. If at almost an hour, one’s interest in the collaboration flags a bit, this is still a worthwhile experiment that will probably give pleasure to either fans of the cellist or those who enjoy Griffiths’ mellifluous voice.

The sound is exemplary – clear and unforced, as is ECM’s bent. The booklet is filled with ECM’s typically beautiful layout and photographs, in their serene house style.

Bruce Hodges

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