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Salvatore SCIARRINO (b. 1947)
Un’ imagine de Arpocrate (1974-1979) [46:51]
Giorno velato presso il lago nero (2012) [18:52]
Tamara Stefanovich (piano: Arpocrate)
Chorwerk Ruhr/Florian Helgath (Arpocrate)
Carolin Widmann (violin: Giorno)
Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Susanna Mälkki (Arpocrate), Jonathan Nott (Giorno)
rec. live, 26 April 2013 (Giorno), 28 March 2014 (Arpocrate), Herkulessaal de Residenz, Munich, Germany.
NEOS 11626 [65:42]

I first properly came across Salvarore Sciarrino’s work quite recently, taking part as one of the ‘100 flute players’ (we made it to about 50) at a performance of his Studi per L'intonazione del Mare at The Hague’s ‘Dag in de Branding’ festival. The individual parts look as if there is hardly anything there in terms of actual music, but the collective effect with percussion, ‘100 saxophones’ and vocal soloist was magical indeed.

With spatial effects such an important element in Sciarrino’s work, the SACD surround-sound format is very useful in recreating the effect of such an experience. Un’ imagine de Arpocrate, “an unusual piano concerto” initially rests upon a kind of ambient ‘mood’ created by percussion, that “fills the room like a faraway rumble of thunder.” Strings trill and flutter, emerging and receding like flocks of muted birds, and the solo piano’s flourishes shine through like glimpses of starlight through slowly moving clouds. The storm clouds eventually break, and notes come tumbling down like rain in an extended crescendo that returns us to a quasi-silence from which heaving breaths create an unsettling ostinato. This work was originally intended for the pianist Dino Ciani, but he died before the composition of the piece was even started. The result “became more a large-dimensioned sound painting with the character of funeral music than a traditional piano concerto.” There are plenty of chilling effects, building up a remarkable intensity of atmosphere and maintaining a feel of anticipation the whole way through. The addition of a choir toward the end of the piece might lead to associations with Beethoven of Busoni, especially given the parallel with the premature decease of Busoni’s intended dedicatee. Sciarroni’s voices become part of the instrumental texture, adding a heightened feeling of celestial turmoil as the music’s intensity of action grows and the final, slow-motion cataclysmic apotheosis unfolds.

Giorno velato presso il lago nero, announced as a world première, is an entirely different kettle of fish. If the previous work was an ‘unusual piano concerto’, then this one is an ‘unusual violin concerto.’ The superb Carolin Widmann plays a character role, perhaps Orpheus; the ‘black lake’ of the title part of the rising and falling tides of the orchestra. Composed during restless times for the composer, there is a feel of agitation in the music, though this is something in the nature of the material – an underlying sensation of unease rather than overt expressions of loss of control. There are associations with visual art and poetry referred to in Sciarrino’s own comment on the piece, and to my ears there is also a cinematic quality – extremes of dynamic providing shocks, the character of the violin talking to us in a stark and at times emotion-filled monologue illustrated and enhanced at times by the orchestra, as well as adding its own vocalisations and projecting imagery of the imagination through musical gestures reflecting on or antagonising the soloist’s phrases.

These live performances are very well recorded. There are one or two coughs and bumps, but nothing too serious. Certainly for Un’ imagine de Arpocrate I would recommend hearing this through the best surround-sound system you can muster. The spatial effects are an essential part of this kind of score, and the very thing for which such reproduction technology is the most useful. The stereo mix is also very good, and with superb clarity capturing the remarkable nuances in these excellent performances this is a contemporary music experience well worth seeking out.

Dominy Clements



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