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Giacinto SCELSI (1905-1988)
Trilogia (1956-1965) [52:22]
Frangis ALI-SADE (b. 1947)
Aşk Havasi (1998) [9:58]
Jessica Kuhn (cello)
Recorded Leutkirch, 23-25 May 2005. DDD
THOROFON CTH 2480 [62:22]

Giacinto Scelsi – or, to give him his full title, Count Giacinto Scelsi di Ayala Valva – was one of the most idiosyncratic composers of the last century. His work has attracted increasing attention in recent years. Born into a noble family from Naples, he travelled extensively in Europe and Asia, and was, at various times, much influenced by the example of Scriabin, and by Persian, Indian and Tibetan thought and music. He became increasingly reclusive after settling in Rome in the 1950s. As a composer he had an early flirtation with serialism, but eventually evolved idioms which were distinctly his own; some of his music was, apparently, improvised during sessions of yoga-inspired meditation, recorded, transcribed and annotated - sometimes with the help of assistants. Interesting as this may be, what matters is what the results sound like.

Trilogia is a very substantial and demanding piece for unaccompanied cello, shaped as a kind of aural (auto)biography; a record of the stages of life. It is in three sections, ‘Triphon’, ‘Dithome’ and ‘Igghur’. The first and last of these sections are in three movements. The central section is a single movement. ‘Triphon’ carries the subtitle ‘Youth – Energy –Drama’. The first movement is - perhaps surprisingly - rather slow and exploits the lower register of the instrument against some occasional fast, high passages, in which metal mutes are placed on the strings. ‘Drama’ is technically very demanding and quite violent in its effects. ‘Dithome’, although in a single movement, again carries a subtitle which implies a division into three phases or aspects; ‘Maturity – Energy – Thought’. The use of microtones becomes even more pronounced, and there are some passages characterised by a beautiful serenity. ‘Ygghur’ - a Sanskrit word roughly corresponding to ‘catharsis’ - is again in three separate movements, subtitled ‘Old Age’ – ‘Memories’ - ‘Catharsis’. It is notated - in what became one of Scelsi’s trademarks – on one stave for each string. It begins poignantly and its second movement touchingly evokes the elusive and fragmentary nature of memory. In its final movement Scelsi’s use of the higher end of the instrument, both beautiful and vulnerable, seems to be anticipating - for the most part calmly - the end of an earthly life.

Trilogia is a challenging but profound and moving work; though by no means ‘easy’ it certainly rewards concentrated listening. Jessica Kuhn seems undaunted by any of the technical challenges. She is able to surmount them and project the work’s emotional content. There is a compelling quality to her playing, which holds the attention throughout. By the end of her performance the listener has shared a complex, exhausting but satisfying musical journey.

Trilogia received its first recording in 1979, played by Frances-Marie Uitti (a performance issued on Etcetera KTC 1136). Uitti worked with Scelsi and her recording has a kind of imprimatur from the composer. But Trilogia is a large, rich work, full of ambiguities. It can’t be pinned down to a single ‘definitive’ performance and Jessica Kuhn’s powerful recording is a welcome addition to the Scelsi discography.

Frangis Ali-Sade was born and educated in Baku in Azerbaijan. In recent years she has lived and worked in Germany. Her music has been recorded by the Kronos Quartet, who performed her piece Oasis at the Barbican in January 2005. She wrote Dervish in 2000 for Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project. Aşk-Havasi (the Turkish title might be translated as ‘the atmosphere of love’) was inspired by the love story of Leyla and Majnun, a story retold by poets in all of the major Islamic cultures during the middle ages. Though it is a story which ends tragically - as it does in Bright Sheng’s operatic version of 1992, The Song of Majnun - Ali-Sade’s piece concentrates on the lovers’ first meeting. Her rhapsodic writing, adventurous but with an implicit tonal centre, conveys both the excitement and the tenderness of the moment, the innocence and the slight hints of danger. Again Kuhn is a persuasive advocate for the music in this, its première recording. Though in a very different idiom from Scelsi’s Trilogia, and altogether slighter, it makes an attractive companion for it on this very worthwhile CD.

Glyn Pursglove



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