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Stefano SCODANIBBIO (1956-2012)
Reinventions
Contrapunctus I (J.S. Bach) (2007) [6:11]
Quattro Pezzi Spagnoli (2009)
Lágrima (Franscisco Tárrega) [1:50]
El testament d’Amelia (Miguel Llobet) [3:34]
Andante (Dionisio Aguado) [4:46]
Studio (Fernando Sor) [8:27]
Contrapunctus V (J.S. Bach) (2009)
Canzoniere Messicano (2004-09)
Cuando sale la luna (José Alfredo Jiminéz) [5:21]
Canción Mixteca (José López Alavéz) [6:34]
Sandunga (Germán Bilbao) [2:46]
Bésame mucho (Consuelo Velázquez) [6:44]
Canzone popolare: La llorona (Traditional) [4:00]
Contrapunctus IV (J.S. Bach) (2008-09)
Quartetto Prometeo 
rec. January 2011, Teatro Giuseppe Verdi, Pollenza
ECM NEW SERIES 2072 [66:37]

I have to admit to never having heard of Stefano Scodanibbio before encountering this ECM release. These “Re-inventions” were his last project, consisting of arrangements for string quartet of three Contrapuncti from Bach’s  Art of Fugue, as well as Mexican songs and Spanish guitar music. The haunting sound of these pieces may mystify to start with, but Irvine Arditti’s comment in the booklet reveals all: “What is intriguing about these arrangements is that they are indeed ‘re-inventions’ as Stefano manages to impinge his own personal style of writing, in harmonics.” Scodanibbio was himself a virtuoso bass player, and his unconventional approach to composing for string quartet using sul ponticello effects, harmonics and open strings allied to slow tempi creates something remarkable and entirely distinctive.
 
What results in these ‘re-inventions’ is that the melodies become at times skeletal echoes of themselves, strange music-box like preservations of music which is understood and communicated through the filter of an amazing imagination. While listening I sometimes wondered if this is the way these pieces might be performed by an ‘authentic’ performance movement 800 years from now, basing their ideas on the fragmentary evidence and scraps of sheet music found in abandoned and desiccated libraries like that of the 1960 film version of The Time Machine.
 
ECM brings these pieces together into their respective regions, with the Quattro Pezzi Spagnoli first, based on Spanish music for guitar from the 18th and 19th centuries. The Mexican songs are collected into Canzoniere Messicano, and the contrast in character between the two sets is clear from the outset, the Mexican rhythms expressed with stately, ghostly elegance. Scodanibbio loved Mexico and went there often to compose. If you dive straight for track 10 and Bésame mucho by Consuelito Velásquez, you are immediately confronted with the song which, according to Arditti, he considered the most beautiful ever written. The Bach Contrapunctus movements are like the light of the full moon shone through crystal shards onto slowly undulating or shimmering mercury.
 
This is the first ECM appearance for Italy’s Quartetto Prometeo, and they make a very fine job of these pieces indeed. The recording is excellent, the acoustic deep and rich but not awash with resonance - that from the strings of the instruments creating its own special halo of sound. I know it’s a terrible cliché, but this really is music which creates its own sense of timelessness. It’s contemporary and ancient at the same time, connecting to something which appeals to the memory and the imagination, holding secrets and a sense of mystery while arousing feelings both of familiarity and estrangement. It really is my kind of music - I hope it’s yours as well.
 
Dominy Clements