Review: Talea Ensemble explores unusual sounds

Talea Ensembles presents program of unusual sounds at EMPAC.

The music of Italian composer Fausto Romitelli (1963-2004) isn’t well known in this country, in part because his music is considered so cutting edge that few groups are willing to tackle it. But on Saturday night, the Talea Ensemble, which has given six U.S. premieres of Romitelli’s music, presented a concert at EMPAC of six of his best pieces.

As a member of the spectral school of composition, Romitelli explored the essence of what sound is to create unearthly sounding pieces. Some of the effects he relied on included string techniques, such as harmonics, tremolos and glissandos; blowing air through a flute or bass clarinet for a kind of wind tunnel effect; and most of all to employ electronics for amplification, reverb and swells of sound. Sometimes there were harmonies and pure sounds and even short motifs. Rhythm appeared occasionally beyond the more often hard attacks.

The pieces were mostly short, some had multiple movements. Generally, the music developed with an organized intent to reach a climax before fading out. James Baker expertly conducted a group that involved in various combinations violin, viola, cello, keyboard, percussion (drums and xylophone), clarinet or bass clarinet, flute or bass flute, and electric guitar.

Talea began with “Domeniche alla periferia dell’impero” (2000), which was a lyrical combination of sounds: Low whispers, string harmonics and tremolos, puffs, thunks, a string gliss, some low rumbles from the bass clarinet. These evolved to a solo violin line that added more notes and volume. The next two movements began with eerie whispers, flute whistle tones, some reverb in the clarinet and scratchy strings to pick up the tempo for the finale with busier combinations.

“Trash TV Trance” (2002) for solo electric guitarist Oren Fader had a few screaming rock sounds, a lot of distortion, basic rhythms, warbles, huge bell-like tones and many frenetic passages. In a way, it was kind of cool. Fader also manipulated various foot pedals to achieve some of the effects.

“La sabbia del tempo”(1991) had a clear ABA format that began with string gliss, hints of flute and bass clarinet that got louder, added some metronomic clacking and other flourishes to sound like a springtime bird cacophony. It ended with an unresolved chord.

“Blood on the floor, Painting 1986” (2000) was the loudest of the pieces with bold strings, runs in the winds, and an edgy mood with sound that came in waves or swells.

“Nell’alto dei giorni immobili” (1990) also used swells, some hollow tones and low to high development. Many effects were metallic sounding like a rusty fan.

“Amok Koma” (2001) had all the players’ instruments amplified so it had a big sound. Romitelli also used a moving bass line, thumping drums and more rhythm. Harmonies were open with rustling, dark and foreboding sounds coming from the bass clarinet. Multi-meters helped push the piece to a big climax to fade back into whispers.

The crowd, which had been as intent and committed as the musicians, gave Talea a standing ovation.

Categories: Entertainment

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