“Metamorphoses” = DMITRI YANOV-YANOVSKY: Viderunt Omnes; FRANGHIZ ALI-ZADEH: Shystar Metamorphoses; SOFIA GUBAIDULINA: On the Edge of the Abyss; Mirage: The Dancing Sun; ALEXANDER KNAIFEL: O Comforter; – Celli Monighetti – Louth Contemporary Music Society LCMS1202, 58:06 [Distr. by Allegro] (9/10/2013) ***1/2:
Cellist Ivan Monighetti formed the cello octet Celli Monighetti while teaching in Switzerland and this very accomplished group is made of current and former students. Another product of Monighetti’s days at the Basle Conservatory is some connections he made with Russian and Baltic composers, such as those represented on this disc. I had to do some research because the only composer I was already acquainted with is Gubaidulina. Much credit is due to Martin Adams, however, for his extremely useful booklet notes.
Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky’s Viderunt omnes for eight cellos is a fairly startling but catchy arrangement of the work by 13th century French polyphonist, Pérotin, of the same title. Perotin’s original melody is present but the texture is thick and modern- sounding, including the addition of two Celtic percussionists. Yanov-Yanovsky has collaborated with the esteemed Silk Road Ensemble and the Kronos Quartet among many others and has played and written many works that tend to re-express old works and older forms. This particular octet is fascinating and great fun to listen to.
Franghiz Ali-Zadeh is an Azerbaijani composer whose music is often reflective of the traditional music from her country: “mugham”. The Shyshtar Variations for eight cellos certainly sounds middle-eastern with a great deal of modal feel. Mugham is apparently a spiritual form of music and this work reflects its tendency to grow in intensity towards a dramatic conclusion. This piece makes for strong listening. I was impressed, this being my first exposure to her music.
Alexander Knaifel was a cello student of Rostropovich but he has concentrated on composition these past several years. O, Comforter is a relatively short work; an arrangement of a piece originally for choir. This piece reminded me a bit of the work of Arvo Paart in its kind of beautiful “pseudo-minimalist” simplicity and it is, truly, a simple, beautiful, meditative work whose communication depends not on vast technique but on tone and phrasing.
There are two works here by Sofia Gubaidulina, the most well-known composer represented here. Gubaidulina is from the Tatar region of Russia and has written a number of works for cello and cello ensembles in recent years. Mirage: The Dancing Sun is actually a pretty kinetic work requiring the eight cellists to have excellent command over the upper register and ample bowing capacity. This is a ‘shimmering’ work with wonderful harmonies. Her On the Edge of the Abyss is a very different matter. Written for seven cellos and two “waterphones.” A comment on the latter is needed. The waterphone is an instrument invented by Richard Waters and uses a small resonator bowl, filled at least partially with water and surrounded by some metal rods that are struck with mallets. The resulting sound is ethereal and other- worldly and has been used in movie scores and various percussion works. On the Edge of the Abyss takes its title from the gap between the cello strings and the fingerboard, where a skilled player can produce some very fine but eerie pizzicato effects. The waterphones contribute some very bizarre glissandi to the overall texture. This work is arguably the most abstract work in this collection but has a kind of “horror movie soundtrack” feel that I admired (although the inclusion of quotes from the Dies Irae to convey the underworld, etc. has been done before.)
Celli Monighetti is a very skilled and unique ensemble and this collection of music is certainly unusual. I think that lovers of somewhat obscure contemporary classical music would like this a great deal. I think cellists should explore these pieces for both the music but also for the pretty impressive demands places on the ensemble.