Aldo Clementi: Canoni Circolari review – joyous polyphonies and tubular bells

Kathryn Williams/Joe Richards/Mira Benjamin/Mark Knoop (All That Dust, binaural download only)
Imitation and canon are at the heart of Clementi’s sonically gorgeous pieces featuring flute, violin, piano and percussion

Two years ago, All That Dust released a performance of Stockhausen’s Kontakte recorded in binaural format, which made marvellous sense of the spatial effects between the instrumental and electronic sounds. The label has now given binaural treatment to four pieces by Aldo Clementi, who died in 2011 at the age of 85.

Clementi was a member of the same generation of avant-garde Italian composers as Bruno Maderna, Luigi Nono and Luciano Berio, though he never adopted the concepts of total serialism as eagerly as his better-known contemporaries. Instead, he sought out other ways of organising his music and creating the intricate polyphonies that he imagined, and found what he needed by going back to the age-old techniques of imitation and canon.

The music he composed using these principles from the 1970s onwards was playful and joyous; it sometimes referenced other composers and styles, and was often exquisitely beautiful. Each of the four pieces here, none of them very substantial, is a gem. Ouverture, for three quartets of piccolo, two flutes and alto flute, was written for the great Italian flautist Roberto Fabbriciani, who recorded it alone by multitracking the 12 contrapuntal lines; Kathryn Williams follows Fabbriciani’s example, placing the listener at the centre of its web of intertwining, echoing voices. The four pairs of violins in Melanconia, all played by Mira Benjamin, move in and out of focus as they chase each other around the aural space, while the four instruments (flute, violin, piano and tuned percussion) in the brief Canone Circolare are given the freedom to choose how and at what distance they repeat the gentle material allotted to them.

Most sonically spectacular of all is the metallic sound world of L’Orologio di Arcevia, with its jangling array of piano, tubular bells and ’spiels, apparently inspired by the sound of a clock in a belfry. It comes wonderfully alive in the performance by Joe Richards and Mark Knoop, and heard as intended through headphones, it’s fabulously involving, too.

This week’s other pick

Kermès, the latest disc on New Focus Recordings from the French-American pianist Julia Den Boer, brings together pieces by Giulia Lorusso, Linda Catlin Smith, Anna Thorvaldsdottir and Rebecca Saunders.

It’s a cleverly contrasted collection of contemporary piano music, from the bravura flourishes of Lorusso’s Déserts and the gently rocking dissonances and ghostly fragments of Catlin Smith’s The Underfolding, to the strummings and creakings of Thorvaldsdottir’s Reminiscence and the abrupt contrasts and relentless clusters of Saunders’s Crimson.


Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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