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Scelsi & Cage (& Schollhörn)
from Mode Records

Mode CDs 256 & 255 and 253 [DVD]

Two extreme releases, arrived in the same post today, remind us how much we are indebted to Mode Records for continuing to preserve experimental music of the late 20th Century for a presumed small proportion of record collectors, and for the specialist musicians they support for concentrating on so hard a professional path, which is unlikely to make fortunes for them.

For Giacinto Scelsi, of whom I have acquired a large collection, here's a complete disc of unaccompanied solo violin music that takes refinement to a new level. We have reviewed his music over many years, since he was featured in the London Almeida Festival and I met him as well in his own home in Rome.

The later Xynobis & L'ame ailee/L'ame ouverte from the '60s and '70s played by Weiping Lin explore single tones and encourage an unique listening mode, which is precious and ideal for home listening.

The other is a disc which has John Cage, whom I met at the Huddersfield Festival during the same period, creating music at a limit which no-one but he would have conceived.

This organ music may look simple for the organist to play, but its essence for these performances is the organisational need for the soloist, here Gary Verkade, to assemble a bevy of assistants, "registrants", likely his pupils [three of them R]. If you are interested, you must choose the DVD version.

Other examples of Scelsi's and Cage's extremism can be readily accessed on YouTube, which I strongly recommend to musical explorers, the visual component of musical performance being latterly recognised as important, as was taken for granted in earlier times and may become so again, for home listening equally as in live music making.

One advantage of both these releases is that the music can be taken in short spells, not necessarily an hour at a time, or in daunting live concerts which repel all but small niche audiences. Both can be enthusiastically recommended for their quality of performance and production, and of documentation, and to support fringe aspects of our immensely varied artistic life.

I found Schollhörn on Mode 255 beyond me at first hearing, with his two large scale pieces, nominally after Fauré & Gershwin (for me too far after) and with over-the-top musicologist's notes and I suggested it be best to sample it before risking purchase.

On re-hearing, I found his Fauré take on a late nocturne, played by the orchestra in "absolute slow motion" against the original on piano, quite beautiful and haunting. Schollhörn's rota explores some of the potential of contrabass clarinet in the hands of specialist Gareth Davis, who has his own exciting solo spot in a wild virtuoso solo based on Gershwin’s “A Foggy Day.”

Peter Grahame Woolf