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Sunday, March 6, 2011

Thomas Zehetmair & Ruth Killius - Manto and Madrigals (ECM, 2011) ****

By Stef

I rarely review classical music, not because I don't like it, but because I know nothing about it, apart from Bach and some Mozart.

I review this album, because it is absolutely fascinating. A duo performance by husband and wife Thomas Zehetmair on violin and Ruth Killius on viola and voice on one track.

As can be expected, the music is composed, with pieces by Bohuslav Martinů - the “Madrigals” - and by Giancinto Scelsi - “Manto”. Other composers include Bartók, Holliger, Skalkottas, Rainer Killius, Johannes Nied and Peter Maxwell Davies.

Yet, the Holliger and Scelsi pieces almost sound like modern improvisation, with lots of mesmerising, hypnotic interweaving of multiple layers of sound, lyrical without being melodic, with Killius singing a kind of tribal chant on "Manto 3". The harmonic complexity is dazzling, as on the intense "Danse Dense", as is the playing, virtuosic and sounding adventurous, in the sense that you expect this absolutely pure sound from classical violinists, but like in jazz, raw emotions result from timbral adventures, creating drones and screeching sounds played on several strings.

The fourty-four seconds of the Bartók piece stand at the center of the album, and creates a shift towards more recognizable structures and harmonics of classical music, even if the Skalkottas compositions are modern, abstract and intense, somewhat aggressive even at moments. With Peter Maxwell Davies the music becomes playful, with folk music elements integrated, and continues in the same vein with the Martinů compositions.

It is all incredibly virtuosic, and that guarantees quality throughout the album, yet the choices of the composers gives the album a little too wide of an emotional and stylistic span. But the first part of the album is guaranteed to be a delight for avant-garde fans of whatever musical genre.

© stef