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Giacinto SCELSI (1905-1988)
Quattro Illustrazioni (1953) [17:05]
Suite No. 9 “Ttai” (1953) [33:39]
Rossella Spinosa (piano)
rec. 2016, Laboratorio Griffa Pianoforte, Milan
TACTUS TC901901 [55:35]

Giacinto Scelsi’s enigmatic background is now to a certain extent being overtaken by recordings of his music, revealing a composer whose inclinations were towards Scriabin and a line drawn back towards late Romantic expression, for all the theory and philosophy behind his creativity and the late flowering of appreciation for his work amongst modern composers in his last few years and beyond.

Composer, musicologist and pianist Rossella Spinosa tackles these works with conviction, but the piano sound is rather muddy in those all-important mid and lower registers. The instrument itself, a Steinway Model D, can also sound a bit clangy in the upper registers. With Scelsi’s exploration of sound, these aspects of the recording are a bit of a shame. Comparing Suite No. 9 with Sabine Liebner’s Wergo recording (review) throws up some interesting contrasts, the first movement for instance taken more slowly by Spinosa, who is also freer with rhythm. For me, Liebner has the better ear for Scelsi’s build-up of resonant colour in this piece, and her more mellifluous touch allows us to ‘forget’ the piano more easily. Exotic transport to distant realms never quite take off in Spinosa’s Ttai II, and I miss the conflict between elegance and darkness in the seventh movement, which is more of a battle for Spinosa as she constantly pulls and pushes with micro-rubati that do not help with the natural flow of the music.

I am less familiar with the Quattro Illustrazioni, though there are a few recordings around. Mode Records as part of its Scelsi Edition has Aki Takahashi, as far as I can see available as a download or surround-sound DVD if you can find it. Takahashi finds poetry in this difficult music, as well as bringing out rhythmic ‘swing’ in the second movement Varaha – Avatàra, which by comparison with Spinosa comes across as a rather melodramatic apparition. The piano sound from around 1:45 also becomes very strange, as if the soundwaves are interfering with themselves.

Renzo Cresti’s booklet notes for this release are interesting and reassuringly larded with footnote references. Scelsi is a fascinating figure, but needs ideal circumstances to make his presence felt and our senses alerted to the strange nuances of his art. While there are some admirable moments in Rossella Spinosa’s recording I fear conditions here fall too far short for a recommendation.

Dominy Clements



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