Giacinto Scelsi Collection, Vol. 1

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Much of what makes Giacinto Scelsi's music attractive (especially to newcomers who have had little other exposure to avant-garde music), is the unique mysticism that infuses his work -- a hybrid of eastern religious thought and personal revelations that contribute an ineffable quality to both the man and his art. Yet it's possible to separate Scelsi the mystic from Scelsi the composer, and find that religious implications are not absolutely necessary to appreciating his music. Maknongan (1976), played by Roberto Fabbriciani on bass flute, opens this 2007 Stradivarius release, and its hypnotic line and simple ornamentation provide a stillness conducive to meditation; yet it is equally fascinating as an object lesson on how to construct a fairly substantial piece out of the sparest elements. Similarly, the String Quartet No. 2 (1961), played here by the Turin String Quartet, is easy to follow, perhaps as an exercise to sharpen concentration, yet it is also a model of economy and organization on the simple idea of expanding unisons into many layers of pitches and rhythmically elaborated textures. Riti: I funerali d'Achille (1962) and Riti: I funerali di Carlo Magno (A.D. 814) (1976), delivered by soloists of the MusicaTeatroEnsemble, percussionist Fulvia Ricevuto, and cellist Francesco Dillon, touch on sacred rituals in their somber repetitions and reverent moods; yet because the mythic elements of their programs are left largely to the imagination, they are quite easy to grasp as abstract studies of patterns and tone colors. Quattro Illustrazioni sulle metamorfosi di Vishnu (1953) is immediately understood as reflections on the Hindu god's avatars, yet close listening reveals the tight construction of these pieces on intricate intervallic arrangements; pianist Fabrizio Ottaviucci renders them with enough evocative expression and technical precision to satisfy both believers in Scelsi's visions and skeptics. This is the first volume in a series of Scelsi's works, recorded in 2005 for the centennial of his birth; as a result of the live concert setting, there are some minor defects in the sound quality and a few coughs and extraneous noises from the audience.

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