I had not previously heard much of Scelsi’s early music, and found
the Violin Sonata to be surprisingly melodic, reminiscent in its
angular phrases of the neo-classicism of Hindemith. The style
is not far removed from other ‘big name’ composers of the era,
with resonances of Berg and his contemporaries. There is a hint
of romanticism; this is not academic music in the sense that it
seems to have a clear emotional message intertwined with the strangely
memorable lines. Quite a substantial work, it has character and
a naïve charm.
Divertimento No. 4 for solo violin was composed some
twenty years later, and is altogether more contemporary in its
style, despite retaining a sense of tonality. This is a challenging
work, heard here in its first recording. There is an underlying
sense of earthiness, and the frenzied faster sections seemed
almost ritualistic in their spiralling motion. There is room,
too, for expression, and the piece serves as an excellent show-piece
for the violin. The four movements each take on their own characters,
extending the previous sound-world in a different direction.
The playing is assured and exuberant, with poetic expression
juxtaposed with displays of technical brilliance.
Duo, composed in 1965, is
scored for violin and cello. This is much more similar in style
to those of Scelsi’s works I had previously encountered, making
use of clusters, dense textures and unusual sounds to create
an individual sound-scape. The music is essentially textural,
rather than melodic, with multiple-stopped notes - the score
is notated, according to the programme notes, with usually three
staves per instrument - performed with altered tone qualities.
Trills and tremolos give a sense of movement to the work, which,
although primarily static, has a sense of constant evolution.
With two movements of similar length, this is highly atmospheric,
with tensions building between the instruments and dissonances
increasing through microtonal pitch bends.
remaining work by Scelsi on this disc is Xnoybis, a microtonal
work in three movements for solo violin. Making use of minimal
material, Scelsi creates a slowly evolving musical line which
seems like a concentration of the style of his earlier works.
The contrast with the Divertimento is enormous, in terms
of melodic structure and musical language, and yet the juxtaposition
of emotion and technique is retained. This is difficult music
to perform; treated purely on the technical level, the music
becomes quickly boring – the emotional level is essential to
retain interest and atmosphere. Diego Tosi does an excellent
job here. The performance is gripping, captivating even, and
one is intrigued to find out where the music will go next. Scelsi’s
use of dissonance is scintillating, with micro intervals emerging
from the texture and then sliding slowly to become unisons.
For me, this was the most fascinating work of the disc, demonstrating
Scelsi’s unique voice as a composer.
Mantovani describes his duo for violin and cello as a ‘Solo for
two instruments’. This is a highly challenging work for the performers,
which is brilliantly executed here. Composed specifically to be
included in a concert programme of Scelsi’s works, Mantovani takes
elements of Scelsi’s style and combines them with his own, creating
an exciting musical language. Mantovani is an exciting young composer
who already has an impressive CV. His music is certainly worthy
of further exploration.