sciarrino paesaggi kairos

Salvatore Sciarrino (b. 1947)
Paesaggi con macerie (2022)
Le voci sottovetro (1999)
Esplorazione del bianco II (1986)
Gesualdo senza parole (2013)
Monica Bacelli (mezzo-soprano)
Icarus vs Muzak/Marco Angius
rec. 2020/22, St. Catherine Church, Vilnius, Lithuania; Spazio Icarus, Reggio Emilia, Italy
Kairos 0022022KAI [51]

I first came across the remarkable music of Salvatore Sciarrino in 1977 in Italy: his landmark Berceuse for Orchestra, possibly the first spectral piece. It had great gashes of silence between its cosmic particles, and its sense of pointillism developed from Webern. I felt that I had never heard anything quite like it. I was not sure I liked it, but I found it fascinating. My feelings have not substantially altered all these years on, but these four works are aided by magnificent performances.

The latest work here is Paessaggi con macerie (walk through rubble) for what is simply called an ensemble. Sciarrino writes in his booklet essay: ‘My rubble comes from some of the Mazurkas of Chopin, a melancholy revolutionary.’ He then says that Chopin’s music has ‘a lurking fragility that crumbles what our fathers delivered to us’. The first movement Vento e polvere (wind and dust) seems to have one sound, one texture which moves kaleidoscopically among the ensemble, especially flute, oboe and clarinet. In the second movement Frantumi (fragments), a clearly audible Mazurka in A minor Op. 17 No. 4 is broken apart. In 4/4 time, the harmony and fragments of melody are heard on beats 1 and 2, sometimes with chromatic inflections and strange percussion noises, with 3 and 4 silent for almost all of its eleven and a half minutes. The effect is beautifully melancholy and utterly sad. The final, brief Cancellazione appears to want to negate this almost-nihilism with a concoction of bells and whistles almost like a Victorian music box.

Now to the earliest piece here. This may be at least the fifth disc in a completist Sciarrino set by Kairos, so Esplorazione del bianco II might just be there to make up the numbers, as it were, at less than four minutes. But this experiment in just one musical colour is quite intriguing, and clearly does not outstay its welcome. It is scored for flute, clarinet, guitar and violin.

Sciarrino composed Gesualdo senza parole (Gesualdo without words) on the five-hundredth anniversary of that remarkable composer’s birth. To explain what is happening in the piece, I will quote from Sciarrino’s extensive note: ‘Composing and recomposing are both functions of creation […] Transcribing music can mean bringing another language into your own.’ At one level, Sciarrino has simply orchestrated four madrigals from Gesualdo’s third, fourth, fifth and sixth books. He scored them for an ensemble of flute, clarinet, marimba including some untuned percussion (used mostly in the last), violin, viola and cello. On another level, tremolando, glissandi, flutter tonguing and other extended techniques bring the madrigals into our own time and in a way increase their beauty. Peter Maxwell Davies did this many years before, so it is worth saying that Sciarrino is more subtle and, I might almost say, more respectful.

Each of the four movements of Le voci sottovetro (voices under glass) is also based on Gesualdo. In these transcriptions, Sciarrino writes, he wants us to realise that ‘ancient music can transfigure itself and live a new season, in contact with the modern spirit’. The first movement is Gagliarda del Principe di Venosa, the third Canzon, and the second and fourth a fragmented madrigal. Singer Monica Bacelli is somehow almost disembodied from the ensemble of flute, oboe, clarinet, percussion, piano, violin, viola and cello.

It seems impossible to imagine this collection of pieces better understood, performed or recorded. But if I were trying to understand the music of this unique composer for the first time, I might begin with a disc of orchestral music, possibly with the Berceuse.

Gary Higginson

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