PRADO: Cartas Celestas Nos. 9, 10, 12 & 14 / Aleyson Scopel, pn / Aleyson Scopel, pn / Grand Piano GP746
When I reviewed Aleyson Scopel’s first two albums of Almeida Prado’s Cartas Celestas or Celestial Charts nearly a year ago, I mentioned that they were
his pianistic view of our galaxy, ranging from meteors, globular clusters, and constellations to the six closest planets, and in them he uses the piano like no one else I have ever heard—not even Alkan or Sorabji, two of the titans of the instrument. Rather, Prado sweeps across the instrument like a swarm of stars, literally consuming everything in its path. He doesn’t so much use tone clusters as much as he does mushroom clouds of sound. The pianist is called upon to explore and exploit virtually the whole of the instrument as if he or she were building a new musical device from the ground up. I often got the impression, listening to this extraordinary music, that Prado was channeling some of the “music of the spheres,” the electronic signals recorded by Explorer space capsules in the form of electromagnetic sounds. He didn’t so much write piano pieces as he did nebulae, capturing in sound waves a spectrum that encompasses nearly every known combination of tones known to man.
And now we have Vol. 3, with the fourth and last volume on the horizon. The music hasn’t really changed, or perhaps I should clarify that by saying that these new recordings follow similar but not identical patterns found on the earlier issues. Sometimes I wondered if Prado was inspired internally, in his mind, by the mere thought of certain star groups or clusters, or externally, by viewing the sky night after night, pulling ideas from what he saw and how he processed it.
Of course this isn’t music for everyone. Many listeners will, I’m sure, think it is not really music at all, but snippets of musical ideas that stop, fall apart or explode. But I assure you that this is not the kind of music that lacks form or “goes nowhere.” On the contrary, it has form and substance, but by evolving in stages that seem isolated and unconnected within each piece Prado pulls the rug out from under our expectations. Some of the music in these pieces is very tightly structured while other portions of it go off on tangents, as one’s mind would do if riding through the cosmos and seeing the stars at a much closer range.
Oddly, two of the four pieces given here have subtitles. No. 10 is titled “The Constellations of the Mystical Animals” and No. 12, “The Sky of Nicholas Roerich.” According to Scopel’s liner notes, the former was not initially planned that way but evolved as “poetically related to passages from the history of Jesus Christ. Tycho’s Supernova is a representation of the Star of Bethlehem, or Christmas Star, alluding to his birth. The Columba (Dove) Constellation suggests his baptism, while Pegasus, his preaching as the winged horse. Globular Cluster NGC=47 and Gegenschein, a celestial and muted vocalise, refer to Maundy Thursday. The Wolf Toccata brings out a
torturous ferocity that paints the Passion and Death of Christ, and the final Phoenix Constellation, his resurrection.” The latter draws on two paintings by the famous Russian artist-philosopher, “Saint Sophia the Almighty Wisdom,” its “fiery orange sky represented by Prado as the resplendent Nebula NGC 7000” and “The Star of the Hero” which shows “a Tibetan watching a shooting star light across the sky, a cosmic phenomenon associated with the Shambhala.” The latter is portrayed as “the Constellation of Cassiopeia and three open stellar clusters, closing the work with a silent, peaceful and transtonal E major chord.”
But all four tone poems have multiple movements, many with names and/or performing instructions. In No. 9 the four sections are attributed to the Brazilian sky as seen in spring, summer, autumn and winter, while in No. 14 they are named after star clusters (Open cluster IC2391, Constellation Auriga, Open cluster NGC2925 and Constellation Carina), although to someone else viewing these same phenomena the impression might be entirely different.
Nonetheless, the music is complex and moving, although one should be warned to take in just one at a time. Overexposure to music of this complexity can produce sensory overload!
—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley
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