Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Len Mullenger:

Giacinto SCELSI (1905-1988) Complete choral works (Latin Prayers, Sacred Songs, Popular Songs, TKRDG, Antiphon on the name of Jesus, Sauh III & IV, and Yliam)  New London Choir (directed by James Wood) with Percussive Rotterdam Accord 206812 72 mins.


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  Giacinto Scelsi (1905-1988) is one of the great originals of the century, and one of my favourite composers. I began writing about him in the early 1980s, and visited him in Rome during 1986. In 1987 first performances of Scelsi's music from the 50's made him suddenly famous at the end of his life, and Accord pioneered the recording of his major orchestral works a decade ago, soon after his death. They are astonishing, and only two of them have yet been performed in UK, only last year, and in semi-private at the BBC's London studio. I recommend one of Accord's best Scelsi CDs below (I hope they are still available).

Vocal music is central in Scelsi's explorations, and his work on 'directed improvisation' with the Japanese soprano Michiko Hirayama led to the solo Canti di Capricorno and these choral works of 1958-73, Scelsi's most important creative period. They reflect his dual religious and experimental preoccupations. Musically, there is a synthesis between European tonal and contrapuntal music with the traditional Japanese fluctuation of timbre and pitch. He enriches his music with a profusion of singing methods and changing vocal colours (long before Stockhausen's Stimmung) with variable vibrato, glissandi, trills, glottal stops and blowing.

The achievement of James Wood's singers (many of them non-professional) in mastering this strange and wonderful music cannot be overestimated. The recording followed a New Voices Festival in France given in September 1998, celebrating the 10th anniversary of Scelsi's death.

There are excellent notes by Marc Tessier, and this indispensable CD is the first complete recording of this important oeuvre.


Peter Grahame Wolf

Further recommendation:

Scelsi Aion, Pfhat and Konx-Om-Pax, Cracow Philharmonic cond. Wyttenbach, Accord 200402

Buy now from Crotchet

(q.v. my discussion of Pfhat in relation to Apeiron by Posadas in my review of Musica99 at Strasbourg, Seen&Heard October 1999)


Peter Grahame Wolf

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