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I last came across the Bozzini Quartet in their admirable release of music by John Cage (review), and now they’ve popped up again with a substantial programme of works by Aldo Clementi. Clementi’s music springs from the Darmstadt avant-garde and the influence of Bruno Maderna, but the branches of his personal developmental tree reach away from those roots into a rarefied stratosphere nicely illustrated in this recording. He described his own music as “an extremely dense counterpoint, relegating the parts to the shameful role of inaudible, cadaverous micro-organisms", that density made transparent through slowness inviting comparisons with endless horizons, particularly in the longer works. Björn Nilsonn puts it nicely in his brief sleeve note for this release: “In essence, the only development in a particular work often is its gradual extinction. Musical material is repeated incessantly, while tempo and dynamic level constantly ebb away.”
These ‘contrapuntal exercises’ open with two Satz pieces, and if I were to have any criticism at all of this release it would be the order in which the pieces are presented. While quiet and indeed filled with ‘kaleidoscopic beauty’, the ear becomes more easily tuned to Clementi’s world through something more extended, like Momento, the shorter pieces arguably functioning more effectively as intermezzi over the span of an hour or so. This is only a small point, but on a first listening it wasn’t really until Momento that I had my ‘aha’ moment – admittedly first thing on a Saturday morning when my brain was still waiting for the caffeine to kick in, but still. If you go back to the abstractions of Satz after the beautiful, dying bars of Momento you may hear what I mean.
Satz might be heard as a sketch for Satz 2 but the two pieces are more different than similar, and with a few years separating them this is to be expected. Satz 2 explores that tender, fragile link between antique counterpoint and modernity, with occasional inflections of melodic and harmonic confluence that take us back fleetingly to the Renaissance. The two Canone are more intense and animated, their open intervals blurring tonality while their melodic lines create a sense of cadence. The halting rhythms of Tribute introduce an almost ritual feel, with close microtonal intervals making this one of the more impenetrable works on the disc.
Momento is a timeless masterpiece and the sort of work that could last forever, its 18 minutes here taking us to places you might have visited while listening to Morton Feldman. Reticolo: 4 is playful by comparison, introducing pizzicati that have been absent until now, and raising the tempo into a dance of miniature puppets. The opening themes of Otto frammenti derive from the music of 15th century figure Carlo di Valois-Orléans or Charles d’Orléans, sharing its title with a work for soprano and period instruments by Clementi from 1978. This version explores this music in a series of canons – a kind of ‘art of fugue’ artistic experiment which results in some of the most sublime moments in this recording. Have a listen to the canon from 5:10 to hear what I mean. There is something about this interaction between the old and the new that I find deeply compelling.
Quatour Bozzini in association with Radio Bremen is to be applauded for this inspiring release. Sound quality is quite bright and at close perspective but works well and provides plenty of detail. If you’ve yet to become acquainted with Aldo Clementi then this would be a good place to start, though the magic he creates with different timbres is inevitably more apparent with other ensembles. Have a listen to his Concertino from 1999 and see if it doesn’t make you fall in love all over again. Meanwhile, I’m off to write some canons.