Stephen Clarke

Giacinto Scelsi: The Piano Works, Vol. 2

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Giacinto Scelsi's mystical outlook and numerous eccentricities are undoubtedly germane to a full appreciation of his life and work, but one need not probe too deeply into them to grasp his music anymore than a knowledge of theosophy might be required for listening to Scriabin. On one level, Scelsi's music, like Scriabin's, must be heard in terms of its harmonies, gestures, and forms, and understood as a highly personal -- some might say idiosyncratic -- musical language, that steadily increased in complexity and virtuosity over time. Scelsi's Suite No. 2 (1930) may provide the easiest access to his ideas because there are residual traces of tonality, identifiable fragments of melody, and familiar pianistic devices scattered throughout the 12 short and seemingly erratic movements. Action Music (1955), however, is much denser and forbidding, for its abundant clusters (played with the palms, forearms, and elbows), wide-ranging gestures all over the keyboard, and aggressively loud dynamics may tax even the most stalwart fan of avant-garde music. Pianist Stephen Clarke performs these works with enormous energy and considerable sympathy for Scelsi's aims, and conveys both their volatility and mystery, if nothing else. Mode's sound quality is decent, though the performances seem recorded at a distance, perhaps to prevent audio distortion.

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