Scelsi's Preludi form a kind of musical diary, an aural
commonplace book … ideas as they occurred to the composer, worries,
delights, experiments, work-notes and the like. Since we're not
even sure that the corpus as so far published represents the intended
entirety of this work by Scelsi, it's tempting to doubt the pieces'
musical integrity as well. Are they to be treated as fragments?
To what are they preludes? How fully did the composer intend them
to be explored, exposed and explained?
Scelsi was notoriously
evasive in helping other music-lovers understand his work. These
Preludi were composed throughout Scelsi's life. His tendency to obscure biographical
details makes them difficult to date more precisely than towards
the early-middle of his career. His is a strange mixture
between obscuring the autobiographical and at the same time basing
much of his output on themes, ideas and events that clearly grew
out of his own life. This CD, though is not a curiosity; it is
full of beautiful, penetrating and demanding music. And will be
enjoyed by the open-minded.
of the Preludi are understated and gentle. Highly focused
and concentrated. Rarely does the composer ask of the piano
anything of which it is not immediately capable. They make their
impact by being contained - reticent, almost. Alessandra Ammara has consistently captured their withdrawn quality. Like a classic pianist exploring Beethoven
or Schubert, Ammara at once conceals yet at the same time emphasises
what the instrument can do. This is how Scelsi intended the
pieces to sound. As a result this is a recital of great pianistic
confidence as well as aesthetic appeal.
widest musicological terms, Scelsi's contribution to the evolution
of twentieth century music was largely transparent until twenty
or so years ago. Given some very particular techniques such
as his interest in single-pitched composition, it's safe to
say that Scelsi is still poorly understood. His presence on
the mid-twentieth century European
musical scene is clearly reflected in his absorption with micro-tones, advanced time signatures and serial technique.
Where these fit into an oeuvre that focuses on pianism has also
to be considered if we are to evaluate Scelsi's work in ways
that have only recently begun. And at the forefront of contributions
to that evaluation are such performers as Ammara; it is as though
the instrument is an extension of her curiosity and persuasion
- without a hint of rhetoric.
aside from the technical challenges and musical variety of the
four dozen or so short movements - none is longer than
six minutes; most last just one minute or so - on this recording,
such larger interpretative questions are uppermost in the performer's
mind. They have been answered very well. That's to our benefit:
there is no other recording in the catalogue.
highly accomplished Alessandra Ammara explains in the accompanying
notes that what struck her most in reference to such musicological
concerns as those is the way in which Scelsi apparently distilled
quite extensive ranges of emotion and mood. He miraculously
captured, particularly, dreamlike and magical experiences in
this music. Clearly an understanding of this and the exact nature
of the Preludi is a prerequisite to a persuasive performance.
to this insight a refusal to treat the music as impressionistic.
Then her playing emerges as having firmly come to grips with
what otherwise might have seemed disparate and arbitrary. And
that's why Ammara's approach works so well here. Her style is
concise and incisive without being at all fractured. She's allowed
cross referencing - of clusters and changes in tempi, for example
- further to reinforce the 'meaning' of the music.
is a skeletal quality to the Preludi, if their aphoristic
qualities are more the result of gauntness than spurious eclecticism,
then the task of the interpreter is to make the skeleton stand
for something, to support advanced or unique musical ideas.
Above all, to play the Preludi as music, not technical
exercises. This is precisely what Ammara does. Her playing is
situated in a vision only possible because of a good grasp of
the overall architecture in Scelsi's mind that led to the production
of such an otherwise apparently heterogeneous collection of
is made in the CD packaging and booklet of the fact that this
is an audiophile recording. Indeed, it is fine-sounding in every
way. There is a warmth and presence from first note to last
which nevertheless neither cloys nor swamps. The dignity and
almost 'take-it-or-leave-it' spirit of Scelsi's tempi, textures
and melodic invention are never compromised. A great testament
to a composer who deserves to be better appreciated. This will
see also Review
by Dominy Clements