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Violeta DINESCU (b. 1953)
Sarpelecupene – The Feathered Serpent
Sarpelecupene I [12:02]
Sarpelecupene II [8:18]
Sarpelecupene III [15:06]
Sarpelecupene IV [10:16]
Sarpelecupene V [9:33]
Sarpelecupene VI [11:12]
Ion Bogdan Stefanescu (flutes, sona, tiuga, prepared piano)
rec. 2015, Deutschlandfunk Cologne.
SARGASSO SCD28078 [66:34]

Romanian by birth, Violeta Dinescu has been based in Germany since the early 1980s, and has been a distinguished teacher and prolific and award-winning composer in genres including opera, orchestral, choral and chamber music. Her collaboration with flutist Ion Bogdan Stefanescu has been a long and fruitful one, and the title Sarpelecupene or ‘The Feathered Serpent’ was his idea, related in part to some of the traditional instruments that appear in this recording. Anyone who knows their previous album ‘Flutes Play’ will know something of what to expect in these Sarpelecupene, as it revisits these multi-tracked flute recordings and uses these tracks as an accompaniment to new solo parts.

Each of these pieces presents an individual but related soundscape. Sarpelecupene I is for solo alto flute and 32 flutes, but as with the other multi-flute pieces here, wears the quantity of its instrumentation lightly. The flutes rarely play all at once, the balance sets some instruments at a distance, and the filigree nature of the writing is a kind of interactive call and response that is not hard to follow once your ears have become attuned to Dinescu’s idiom. Sarpelecupene II contrasts in the sharp reedy sound of the sona which fronts a 24-flute backing, with groups of flutes appearing at different perspectives and solo moments flitting across the soundstage. Sarpelecupene III returns to the alto flute, this time with 16 flutes accompanying – an ensemble that also includes piccolo and bass flute. These pieces have an improvisatory feel, but there are sublimely beautiful moments and strange, surreal sections that use whistle tones and other effects to tease the ear. Sarpelecupene IV is another contrast, with the slightly saxophone-like tiuga creating an exotic atmosphere into which the flutes enter with their own discourse, Stefanescu at times required to sing into the notes to create different textures and multiphonics. The changes between intimate chamber-music intercourse between solos and points at which the entire ensemble enter are always very striking.

Sarpelecupene V is described as the ‘golden section’ of the arc that this cycle of pieces forms. It “mirrors the sometimes clear and gentle, at other times dramatic music played on the Sona in Sarpelecupene II.” Familiar thematic gestures return, and the lyrical, rhetorical feel of both solo and ensemble has a uniquely poetic force that is quite beguiling. The final Sarpelecupene VI starts with yet another new sound, the rasp of a kazoo that, along with the family of flutes, is underpinned by the strangely appropriate sounding notes of a prepared piano. There is a temptation to hear the kazoo as an annoying insect of some kind, but its upper harmonic spectrum works well with the flutes and suggestive and once again exotic, perhaps Japanese colours of the piano.

This is music that exists in its own space and time, unconstrained by conventional meter and Western structural ideas. “…it is about the elasticity of time, of the tempo one chooses based on one’s own pulse.” Romanian folk traditions play their role here, as do Far Eastern ritual musical influences. It would certainly be worth sampling some of this music in advance to see if it intrigues, but for the true effect you do of course have to give it time and attention, which it will duly reward, if you let it. The origami of the CD case is also something to be admired.

Dominy Clements

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