Fernando Greco’s Cello Extension



MANZOLI: Abstract Passage I-VI. Logische da una persistenze I & II. BO: Prologo. Intermezzo a Capriccio. PEDRAGLIO: Polifonie I & II. RAVERA: In – stabile equilibrio. D’intenso svanire. ROSATO: Ombre I & II. BELLINO: Intermezzo I & II / Fernando Caida Greco, cel / Tactus TC 960004

According to Emiliano Giannetti’s liner notes:

This project represents a natural conclusion of a twenty-year long research on instrumental treatises written from the 18th to the 20th century…That research, far from standard philology – which tends to match the used instrument with the performed repertoire – as well as from the new trends that lead contemporary composers to write for period instruments, turns out to be very relevant in relation to the performance practice…In this recording, instead, all the typical characteristics of the string instruments made in the violin making’s golden age – the era marked by Stradivari, Amati and Guarneri – are brought back to the cello.

All of the pieces on this CD were written in the 21st century, yet are played on an 1880 Claude Augustin Miremont cello. Between you, me and the light socket, I think that some of this is just a lot of folderol. Classical musicians are MUCH too hung up on “historical performance practices,” as if a return to the days when instruments sounded weak and pathetic was some sort of magic portal to our “understanding” of the music we’re hearing. It’s as if a New Orleans band that chooses to put on a concert of early 20th-century jazz music insisted on playing the old Albert system clarinets, gut string basses and defective trumpets and trombones that poor black musicians of that time had to deal with as a way of conveying the “authenticity” of early jazz. It’s all smoke and mirrors; in the end, all that really matters is the music itself.

As you can see from the above header, composer Andrea Manzoli (b. 1977) gets the lion’s share of the music on this disc. Her six Abstract Passages are actually spread out through the CD, and played out of order to boot. These are essentially microtonal exercises in which she takes a single tone, toys with it for a couple of minutes by moving it up and down by small degrees of pitch and instructing the cellist to play in various ways, i.e. with the edge of the bow on the strings. It’s an interesting experiment but doesn’t have much substance.

Sonia Bo (b. 1960) also works in microtones but is more diverse in her construction of musical material, using a full octave, sometimes in the tempered scale and sometimes using extended notes outside the tonality, Thus hers is as much a constructed piece using variations as it is microtonal “mood” music, though I’m sure it is no less confusing to the average listener. Fernando Caida Greco has a huge, full cello tone which is given a lot of resonance here. To a certain extent, this reverb is necessary to allow the music to resonate in a concert space, yet although the clarity of his playing assures that nothing is lost to the ear even in the softest passages, I felt it was a little overdone, as is so often the case nowadays.

Manzoli’s Abstract Passage III, which follows next, is a very busy piece  covering a wider range of tones and played at a fast tempo. We then move to Umberto Pedraglio’s Polifonie I & II, which is music in the same vein.

The pieces on this CD are indeed all somewhat different, but all are microtonal and to my ears it sounds as if they all got together and decided to write all this music in essentially the same style. What this means to the listener is that, though the program is quite interesting in places, in a blindfold test one would be completely unable to differentiate between the composers. Without different names (and titles) on the pieces in this set, you’d think they were all written by the same person, even though Pedraglio’s Polifonie II opens with a surprisingly lyrical passage that comes and goes throughout the piece.

Yes, I found much of the music here fascinating but none of it of lasting value. This is essentially a one-off, a set of curiosities which entice the listener without really satisfying him or her. It’s like the barker outside of a carnival sideshow promising you more than the sideshow actually delivers. I find much more of substance in the split-tone experiments of Julián Carrillo and Harry Partch. Perhaps one thing that affects my mood in this respect is that almost none of these pieces have any real climaxes in them, thus to my ears they don’t really go anywhere. They are technical and tonal lab experiments, interesting but ephemeral. Indeed, the one piece here that I felt was really different, Manzoli’s Abstract Passage V, was so abrasive to my ears that it gave me a headache.

Of course, you may feel entirely different about them. That’s the beauty of hearing music differently, and all I can speak for is my own reaction.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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