Sciarrino on Cypres C

Review by: ClassicsToday

Artistic Quality: 3

Sound Quality: 9

Listening to the piano music of Salvatore Sciarrino, I was reminded of Truman Capote’s excoriation of Kerouac’s On the Road: “That’s not writing, it’s just typing.” This is not composing, it’s just notating. Aside from the early (1983) Sonata II, which is not un-beautiful with its flurrying filigree against dark, lush chords (in a fearlessly heavy-handed live performance by Shai Wosner), these pieces are almost completely devoid of interest. What’s worse, this music-free music might well have been the composer’s intention.

Sciarrino has only two gestures at his disposal: the plink and the thunk, with variations of course (such as the ker-plink and the ka-thunk). For the most part these indistinct works run together in the fashion of white noise: it is difficult to tell one Notturno from another, save for the final one, which manages a slight hint of musical interest with some beautifully dense chords. The pianists–Nicolas Hodges, Oscar Pizzo, and the aforementioned Shai Wosner–no doubt give committed and accurate readings, but who can know in material this muddled?

The saddest piece on the disc is the Sonata IV because it has potential: Sciarrino’s conceit for the work has large possibilities. In the notes the composer says “I do not consider the Fourth Sonata as a piece of music, but as a sound object which creates embarrassment because of its strength and physical presence.” This preconception escapes him, and rather than create something musically satisfying he rests on some abstract notion of visceral effect or primitivism, which is not enough to bear out the nine minutes of intense banging heard here. Ultimately, what could have been interesting and artful sounds like Poulenc played by a drunken ape.

I was defending Schoenberg’s piano music to a student of mine some years ago, a non-musician who after hearing Op. 23 said “I could do that.” I led her to the piano and made her try, and she found it not so easy. If she happens to be reading this review, perhaps Sciarrino would be a better place to start. This she can probably do.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None

SALVATORE SCIARRINO - Piano Sonatas II-V; 4 Notturni

  • Nicholas Hodges (piano)
    Oscar Pizzo (piano)
    Shai Wosner (piano)

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