Estimable American cellist Charles Curtis spans a spectra of rare, unreleased recordings of music by Eliane Radigue, Morton Feldman, Anton Webern, Olivier Messaien and himself in the first comprehensive survey of his oeuvre on Tashi Wada’s Saltern label. Almost two and a half hours of deep, engrossing music.
Ranging from performance of obscure C.14th pieces by Guillaume de Machaut, to C.20th avant garde works by Messiaen and Webern, thru to his previously unreleased 2012 rendition of Éliane Radigue’s ‘Occam V’, and a clutch of his own compositions, the 20 pieces of ‘Performances & Recordings 1998-2018’ plot out the remarkable breadth and depth of work by renowned, LA-based cellist Charles Curtis. Rooted in his childhood classical studies and subsequent schooling by La Monte Young and Pandit Pran Nath, Curtis’ wide scope and insight has placed him among the eminent performers of contemporary music, minimalism and modern classical for over 20 years, as documented inside.
The set speaks not just to Curtis’ musical restlessness, but his spirit of inquiry, as the works all bear some relation to each other, not least for the fact they’re all performed by him, but also in the way he inhabits and brings the original composer’s ideas to fruition, and makes inherent links between eons of Medieval and Renaissance music, serialism, rock and early conceptions of noise music.
The set smartly outlines this breadth in stages, drawing connection between his awning take on Radigue’s ‘Occam V’ (2012) and a number of C.14th-17th works by Guillauem de Machaut, Tobia Hume, Silvestro di Ganassi and the stately sweep of his own ‘Unfinished Song’ (1998) in disc 1, whereas disc 2 focusses on his readings of C.20th works including Terry Jennings’ ‘Song’ (1960) which he premiered in 1995, Morton Feldman’s sublime ‘Durations II’ (1960) that appeared on Chamber Music: Alvin Lucier & Morton Feldman’, and Alison Knowles ‘Rice and Beans’ (2008), adapted from a score made out of lentils, fabric and string; while disc 3 contains a massive highlight in his fascinating take on Richard Maxfield’s ‘Perspectives for La Monte Young’, itself inspired by John Cage’s conception of noise music and the harmonic qualities of frictional, non-musical sounds, which all feel as though they’re preparing the listener for the culmination of three Curtis originals, from the supernatural shimmer of ‘Unison Offset’, to the dusky Cali post-rock of ‘Music For Awhile’, and the keening figure of ‘Music for “Lester”’, a commission for Luke Fowler’s ‘Tenement Films’.