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Carlo FORLIVESI (b. 1971)
rec. unspecified venues in Bologna, Paris, Hamburg, Tokyo, Kyoto and Melbourne, dates not provided
Some texts and translations included
TACTUS TC970601 [71:10]

The Tactus booklet provides few clues about the Italian composer Carlo Forlivesi, but a visit to his website is more illuminating. He was born in Faenza, near Bologna in 1971, and studied there and elsewhere in Italy during the 1980s and 1990s. In the realm of electroacoustic music he has worked at IRCAM and its Danish equivalent DIEM, but his main interest seems to be in the field of traditional Japanese music; indeed he has also worked in both Tokyo and Kyoto and that focus is certainly represented on this survey, but as can be seen in the tracklisting that follows this review it far from Forlivesi’s sole interest. The short works that populate this disc (the opening electronic work Elements is the longest at around eight minutes) have been helpfully grouped by genre.

Elements itself begins with what sounds like an amplification of a coin being spun into a jar -this evolves into a variegated collage of treated Musique concrète, some of which may well have been sourced at a train station/bus station/airport. There is a brief fragment of distorted choral singing (Haydn’s Creation) about half-way through, and an element of resonant piano (Bach’s Goldberg Variations) toward the end. Its briefer companion Through the Looking-Glass seems to juxtapose more piano doodlings with garden birdsong and the sounds of rustling footsteps. Beyond the usual sound identification puzzles I found it hard to make any coherent sense of either work, though the sounds themselves are ear-tickling, and perhaps that’s their sole raison d'être.

A trilogy of pieces involving Japanese instruments comes next. The very brief, unidiomatically translated booklet notes don’t even acknowledge these works. Ugetsu is a duo for the flute-like shakuhachi and guitar. Forlivesi plays around with the breathy properties of the former and the percussive potential of the latter. It is recorded in a very resonant acoustic. The Japanese instrument emits some engaging ‘laughing’ gestures. En la Soledat i el Silenci (Catalan for ‘In solitude and silence’) is a three movement work for koto (a kind of zither) and guitar whose title seemingly refers to the writings of the late Catalan nationalist Lluís Maria Xirinacs. This work is defiant and restrained by turn. Some of the sounds produced by the koto in this context are undeniably beautiful, but much of what surrounds them is harsh and uncompromising. One is far less aware of the presence of the guitar in this piece – what appear to be an abundance of extended techniques are absorbed into the fabric of the whole. Silenziosa Luna (Silent Moon) is a setting (in a Japanese translation) for voice and two biwas (Japanese lutes) of a poem by the nineteenth century Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi, in which the author asks profound, existential questions of the Moon. Kumiko Shuto plays one of the biwas and alternates declamation with singing. The biwas provide disarming, sporadically percussive commentary. The piece is a disorienting synthesis of ancient and modern. These three pieces are fascinating to hear, although it’s difficult to ascertain Forlivesi’s expressive goals in these works, and thus make any credible objective judgements.

The Two Ornaments are orchestral aphorisms of a post-Webernian hue. They sound far more heavy-handed in this over-resonant recording than I suspect was Forlivesi’s intention. And by now it has to be said that the recording quality throughout this disc is a major impediment for the listener. It’s a shame because the composer clearly has a fine ear for unusual instrumental timbres as is obvious from listening to the two Rosenleben pieces for trio, which both feature clarinet and piano with cello (in the first) and viola in the longer second piece. This has a little more room to breathe than the first. On the face of it both of these pieces project a rather dystopian mystery. La Pointe à La Droite du Coeur is a study for solo piano written during the composer’s mid-twenties. The reproduction of her message at the back of the leaflet suggests that Yvonne Loriod was impressed, and it’s a work that certainly explores the colouristic potential of the piano, and perhaps inhabits a similar aesthetic to the sound world Messiaen himself imagined in Cantéyodjayâ or the Quatre Études de Rythme. Although Forlivesi certainly goes further in terms of extended techniques.

Two brief pieces for voice only, Spem in Alium and Audivi Vocem involve the soprano Sara Frank singing in tandem with one and two multi-tracked versions of herself respectively. These little works are the most effective on this disc, and tap into an ancient-meets-modern music which looks back to both Dufay and Feldman. The undiluted purity of Frank’s voice underpins the soulful essence of music which is immediate, beautiful and spare. In between is an austere sacred work, Petite Prière, for soprano, trumpet and organ. Virile, declamatory gestures from the organ intertwine with echoey trumpet fanfares and Eva Macaggi’s rather fragile, vibrato-laden voice. It does not sound as consolatory as its title might suggest.

Three arrangements conclude the disc. A lovely Ave Maris Stella clearly offered local relevance to Forlivesi, drawn as it is from the Codex Faenza. This provides another opportunity to hear Sara Frank’s lovely, lilting tones, while in the more abrasive Stella Splendens that follows she imbues the text with a bit more bite (and vibrato). In both cases though she is rather overwhelmed by the rather gruff accompaniment of two brass and organ. The disc concludes with a rather odd sounding arrangement of Ives’ perennial Unanswered Question, but this performance seems undermined by two organs which sound leaden, heavy-handed and awkward, rather than transcendent.

As a visit to his website underlines, Carlo Forlivesi has pursued any number of contrasting musical directions, and has written for a fascinating diversity of ensembles across an impressive range of genres. If one is prepared to put up with sound that is at times a little rough around the edges, this disc constitutes a useful calling-card for his art.

Richard Hanlon
Electronic works
1. Elements [7:53]
2. Through the Looking-Glass (2005) [3:42]

Compositions for Japanese traditional Instruments
3. Ugetsu, for shakuhachi and guitar (2007-2008) [5:18]
4-6. En la Soledat i el Silenci, for koto and guitar (2007-2008) [7:37]
7. Chinmoku no Tsuki/Silenziosa Luna, for voice and two biwas (2009) [4:20]

Yoruke Irie, shakuhachi; Ayako Shigenari, koto; Norio Sato, guitar; Kumiko Shuto, voice,biwa; Yukio Tanaka, biwa

Chamber Music
8-9. Two Ornaments, for chamber orchestra [2:38]
10. Rosenleben I , for clarinet, cello and piano (2004-2006) [3:44]
11. Rosenleben II, for clarinet, viola and piano (2006) [5:19]
12. La Pointe à La Droite du Coeur, for piano (1996, rev 1997) [4:37]

Kyoto Chamber Orchestra/ Carlo Forlivesi;
Samuel Dunscombe, clarinet; Judith Hamann, cello; James Rushford, piano
Ingolfur Vilhjalmsson, clarinet; Lolla Petrovitsch, viola; Lluisa Espigolé. piano
Satoshi Inagaki; piano

Vocal Music
13. Spem in Alium, for two sopranos [2:32]
14. Petite Prière, for soprano, trumpet and organ [5:29]
15. Audivi Vocem, for three sopranos [1:46]

Sara Frank, soprano (multi-tracked);
Eva Macaggi, soprano; Luigi Zardi, trumpet, Bettina Leitner, organ

16. Ave Maris Stella (after Codex Faenza), for soprano, trumpet, trombone and organ [3:35]
17. Stella Splendens (after Llivre Vermell), for soprano, trumpet, trombone and organ [4:56]
18. The Unanswered Question (after Charles Ives), for trumpet and two organs [6:39]

Sara Frank, soprano; Miloro Vagnani, trumpet; Joshua Whitman, trombone; Carlo Forlivesi, organ
Luigi Zardi, trumpet; Bettina Leitner, organ I; Carlo Forlivesi, organ II

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