Stefano Scodanibbio: Reinventions (ECM New Series 2072)

Reinventions

Stefano Scodanibbio
Reinventions

Quartetto Prometeo
Giulio Rovighi violin
Aldo Campagnari violin
Massimo Piva viola
Francesco Dillon violoncello
Recorded January 2011, Teatro Giuseppe Verdi, Pollenza
Engineer: Gianluca Gentili
Executive producer: Manfred Eicher

Stefano Scodanibbio (1956-2012), best known for his collaborations with Terry Riley and as an improviser and extended technique innovator on the double bass, was also a prolific composer, writing more than 50 works for strings. His sole album for ECM owes its existence to Irvine Arditti, lead violinist of the Arditti Quartet and a longtime friend, and actualizes a dream that occupied the composer’s final years to the point of obsession.

Stefano Scodanibbio
(Photo credit: Alfredo Tabocchini)

The “reinventions” of the album’s title refer to his string quartet reworking of Bach, Spanish guitar music, and Mexican songs in a long-form suite of seamless, expressive character. Although, on the surface, three iterations of the Contrapunctus from Bach’s Art of the Fugue seem little more than slight deviations of their source material, they actually brim with harmonic ornaments and slow tempi that allow the listener to better scrutinize their pathos through Scodanibbio’s idiosyncratic lens. Rather than simply “re-imagine” the works of his interest, Scodanibbio turns them slowly in the hands, studying them as might a diviner a crystal ball, until they sing of their own accord.

The Bach references are the massive vertebrae of the suite, each cushioned by the Spanish and Mexican disks between them. The former take the name of Quattro Pezzi Spagnoli, but breathe as one unit. The pizzicato ornaments of “Lágrima” begin a stroll through elegant gardens, which with every step elicits new aspects from each melody in turn. There is already so much life in this music that Scodanibbio’s filtering would feel intrusive, were it not for his sensitivity, so that by “Studio” we may feel every detail as a song unto itself.

The five Canzoniere Messicano, on the other hand, come across more urgently with the opening “Cuando sale la luna.” Their life force swirls in the night, disturbing the reflection of a waning moon and etching out a dance along the water. Even the evergreen “Bésame mucho” (the most beautiful song ever written, in the composer’s estimation) leaves ripples in the mirror of its timelessness. “Canzone popolare: La llorona” ends this portion as if thrown in a bottle out to sea, a beacon for ghosts whose love of life keeps them haunting the pitch.

The performances by Italy’s Quartetto Prometeo are quiet, assured, and strangely uplifting—as much a quality of the music as of their playing. The cyclicity of both underscores the depth of Scodanibbio’s craft: no mere homage but a profound exercise in empathy.

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