Giacinto Scelsi - The Works for Double Bass

Giacinto Scelsi

  (1905-88)

  mode 188

  96khz 24-bit high definition recording

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Mode Records - A Record Label Devoted to New Music The Works for Double Bass

Nuits (1972)
   I. C'est bien la nuit   (2:49)
   II. Le Reveil profond   (6:00)
   Et maintenant c'est à vous de jouer... (1974)   (6:21)
Robert Black, double bass

Ko-Tha "Three Dances of Shiva" (1967)
transcription for double bass by Fernando Grillo (8:14, 2:19, 3:44)
Robert Black, double bass
First Recording

Dharana (1975)   (8:49)
for cello and double bass
Robert Black, double bass
Felix Fan, cello
First Recording

Maknongon (1976)   (4:29)
for any low instrument (or bass voice)
Robert Black, double bass

Kshara (1975)   (2:56, 5:38, 5:07)
for two double basses
Robert Black, double bass
John Eckhardt, double bass
First Recording

Okanagon (1968)   (9:07)
for harp, double bass and tam-tam
Robert Black, double bass
June Han, harp
Tom Kolor, tam-tam

Mantram (undated)   (4:47)
Robert Black, double bass


This disc contains the first complete recordings of Scelsi's music for doublebass.

This is volume 7 in Mode's acclaimed Scelsi Edition.

Scelsi's infamous KO-THA I, II, III - for string instrument played lying on its back in a percussive manner - is presented for the first time in an adaptation from the original for guitar by legendary bassist Fernando Grillo.

Robert Black, internationally known as one of the leading bassists of our time, has also collaborated or performed with a diverse number of musicians from D.J. Spooky to Meredith Monk to Cecil Taylor, and is a regular member of the Bang on a Can All-Stars.


Reviews:

Giacinto Scelsi
The Orchestral Works 2

Mode 176
AND
The Works for Double Bass
Mode 188

The quintessential Quattro Pezzi (su una nota sola) lay bare Scelsi's techniques, aims and concerns. While Schoenberg, Boulez and Cage brought to the 20th century new organizational strategies, Scelsi sidestepped their advances through a fundamental reappraisal of pitch and instrumental color. Webern's Klangfarbenmelodie may have arrived there first, however Scelsi went to an extreme by devoting entire movements to a single pitch. A primal force exhorts the Quattro Pezzi's F, B, A-flat and A towards purity as 25 musicians, predominantly winds, snake though gouging harmonic shifts and microtonal distemper. His precisely notated scores explicitly specify quarter-tone inflections, types of vibrato, mutes, dynamics, etc. Crisp unisons materialize but are soon abandoned for eviscerating tremolos and detuned shrieks, thus avoiding the security of harmonic completeness.

Intended or not, this mode orchestral release hangs heavy with the pallor of sickness and death. La nascita del Verbo preceded Scelsi's mental collapse in the late 1940s. He cured himself, so the story goes, by continuously playing the same piano note for days on end. Oriental philosophy filtered in as well. Quattro Pezzi represents his recovery's culmination. The anguished Uaxuctum's subtitle, The Legend of the Mayan City which they themselves destroyed for religious reasons, perpetuates the obsessions.

In their Quattro Pezzi, Rundel and the Vienna Radio Symphony position us cautiously at the abyss' edge. The live recording enshrines coughs and shuffling, the effect of which diminishes choral aspirations in the eruptive Uaxuctum whose five movements careen towards destruction. After Quattro Pezzi Scelsi permitted himself a greater array of pitches, always handled with meticulous care. Uaxuctum writhes in the presence of death, its wailing ondes Martenot a stern sibyl. These DVD-Audio recordings possess the best clarity around, vastly superior to Hans Zender's cautious 1978 Quattro Pezzi on cpo 999 485-2 or even Jürg Wyttenbach's classic yet overly reverberant Quattro Pezzi and Uaxuctum on Accord 200612.

This first recording of La nascita del Verbo suggests truculence. Its intoxicating jumble of expressionism, Wagnerian bluster and complex canons aligns it with similar creation myths by Leifs and Langgaard. Grandiose and colorful passages compare with Scriabin and Messiaen, with strange chorus murmurings suggesting B-movie sound effects. Beyond the work's fervency, it's hard to find the mature Scelsi, suggesting rather that he wasn't quite all there.

Scelsi solo and chamber pieces routinely stretch individual limits by requiring non-standard techniques from tapping to vocalization. On the surface, the works' short lengths suggest miniatures, and yet, because Scelsi abandoned traditional forms and edged closer to improvisation, his works are expansive despite their brevity.

The two-movement Nuits (C'est bien la nuit and Le Réveil profond) emerges as an abstract, somewhat traditional bass solo. Black's riveting performance delivers floor-rattling low notes, the full-throated upper range betraying none of the nasality of Joëlle Léandre's 1993 hat release (hat ART CD 6124).

Ko-Tha requires that the bass be lowered to the ground and treated percussively. Black employs bassist Fernando Grillo's arrangement of these Three Dances of Shiva, originally scored for guitar, to be played across the lap. In 1988, percussionist Maurizio Ben Omar used an amplified guitar on INA Mémoire Vive 262009. Black's realization is darker, less attributable to a stringed instrument. Grillo's 1976 performance on the second disc of col legno's 50 Jahre Neue Musik in Darmstadt (set: WWE 4CD 31893; single disc: WWE 1CD 31895) seems preoccupied with exotic sound production and sits closer to works by Lachenmann, Xenakis and Cage in the same release (it's also a single 7:13 track whereas Black clearly delineates three: 8:14, 2:19 and 3:44).

Two duets receive their first recordings: the cello and bass Dharana and the double-bass duet Kshara. Titled in Sanskrit, both course slowly though quarter- and eighth-tones under precisely specified vibrato. Practically a palindrome, Dharana represents the initial stage in deep meditation. A delicately warped unison occupies Kshara's center. Scelsi cleverly applies scordatura so that some notes resonate while others pass dully. The cello-bass duet Et maintenant c'est à vous de jouer... soars through long double-stops.

Black's gutteral cries in Maknongon will startle. Specified for "any low instrument or voice," some performers take the less satisfying non-vocal route: Michel Tavernier on bassoon (ADDA 581 189), Uli Fussenegger on double bass (Kairos 0012162KAI), Giancarlo Sciaffini on bass tuba and Nicolas Isherwood's bass voice (both on hat ART CD 6124). This latter hat release has a third realization, bassist Joëlle Léandre whose deep groaning unfairly suggests Yoko Ono.

Scored for an odd trio of mistuned and amplified harp, bass and tam-tam, Okanagon clings to indeterminate nether regions recalling Mahler's "Der Abschied"'s lugubrious halting opening. A central tapping episode reinforces Scelsi's "heartbeat of the earth." The set closes with the melodic Mantram which swirls both jazz and oriental languors.
--- Grant Chu Covell, La Folia online review, March 2008


Giacinto Scelsi
The Works for Double Bass

Robert Black, double bass
Mode 188

This CD is the first recording of Scelsi's compositions for double bass, and as such it is a must have for any contemporary music or double bass enthusiast.

I had understandably very high expectations prior to listening, and I am pleased to say that I was not disappointed at all even after several hearings!

Most of these works were composed in Scelsi's "trademark" phase when the composer crafted whole pieces based on single tones. This explains the strong monodic character of these works even when the double bass is joined by other instruments. Consequently, the performer's ability to convey changes of timbre, colour, dynamics and sound quality as well as microtonal fluctuations (that in some cases reach eighths of the tone) is of the utmost necessity when interpreting this music and essential in revealing the composer's true intentions.

Mr Black does a superb job conveying all these aspects; his experience in collaborating with distinctly diverse and contrasting artists, and his strong familiarity with improvised music as well (he is a regular member of the Bang on a Can All-Stars) must have come handy in helping him realise and project the pure essence of this music.

Trying to show that "whole universes can exist in these single sounds" is no easy task, but Mr Black does a great job attempting to achieve this end. I was particularly curious to listen to Ko-Tha which I myself had performed in its original version for amplified guitar. I could imagine that a transcription (or adaptation rather) from that version could well be suited for the bass or cello, since in the original the guitar is played resting on its back on the performer's knees, as a resonating "string percussion" instrument. I have subsequently found this version for double bass highly successful as all the percussive effects now acquire a wonderful new resonance, facilitated by the instrument's large body.

In Okanagon June Han on harp and Tom Kolor on tam tam show themselves as sensitive musicians and very experienced chamber music performers too. The overall ensemble in this, the only work on the disc for three instruments, is superb and very well balanced; all three breathe as one and control all their sounds so as to create one new unified artificial timbre. The same is true of course for bassist John Eckhardt and cellist Felix Fan, who interact magnificently in the duos and demonstrate that they too musicians of the highest calibre.
--- Evis Sammoutis, Musical Pointers online review


Included in the "Festive playlist for the 99th birthdays of Messiaen and Carter"
Giacinto Scelsi
The Works for Double Bass
with Robert Black
Mode 188
--- Alex Ross, The Rest Is Noise, December 2007


Related Resources:

Also by Giacinto Scelsi on Mode Records:
The Piano Works 1 (mode 92)
The Orchestral Works 1 (mode 95)
The Orchestral Works 2 (mode 176)
Music For High Winds (mode 102)
The Piano Works 2 (mode 143)
The Piano Works 3 (mode 159)
Haydee Schvartz: New Piano Works From Europe and The Americas
     (mode 31)

Also by Robert Black on Mode Records:
Christian Wolff: Vol. 4: Look She Said: Complete Works for Bass
     (mode 109)

Also by John Eckhardt on Mode Records:
Iannis Xenakis: Music for Strings (mode 152)

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