This new ECM disc, NATURA RENOVATUR, is an all-strings set of Scelsi's music, featuring the Dutch cellist Frances-Marie Uitti, who collaborated with the mystic and "composer" for many years. After Scelsi's death in 1988, Uitti was commissioned by Scelsi's sister to catalog over 300 tapes and 700 hours of Scelsi's improvisations dating back to the 1950s, we learn in the liner notes by Uitti and Herbert Henck. She says "[s]ound became the grammatical focus of his later work, superceding pitch, rhythm, and harmony. And his quest was to reveal the third dimension through the use of one tonal center was central in his late work."
Included here are three astounding and luminous works for string ensembles from the mid-1960s -- "Ohoi" for 16 strings (8'33" - 1966), "Anagamin" for 11 strings (7'07" - 1965), and "Natura renavatur" for 11 strings (12'30" - 1967), with solos for cello interspersed. "Ave Maria" and "Alleluja," taken from "Three Latin Prayers" (1970) are lovely, lyrical, melodic pieces that stand in contrast to the dense microtonality of the ensemble works.
The central solo work is "Ygghur, I, II & III" (16' - 1961), taken from "Trilogy -- The three ages of Man" (1956 - 65), which was dedicated to Frances-Marie Uitti. As is typical in late Scelsi, the music is slow and stately, seemingly probing the inner depths of perception. The ensemble works are performed by the Munchener Kammerorchester (Munich Chamber Orchestra), directed by Christoph Poppen.
This new ECM disc overlaps with the 2001 Kairos disc, also called NATURA RENOVATUR, performed by the Klangforum Wien, Hans Zender conducting (see my review). The Kairos disc also includes both "Anagamin" and "Natura renovatur." It also includes Scelsi's "String Quartet No. 4" (1964), which was expanded for a larger ensemble to form "Natura renovatur," along with "Elohim," another string ensemble work from 1965/67, the "Duo for Violin and Cello" of 1965, and "Maknongan" for solo bass from 1976.
Both sets of Scelsi's music for strings are incredible -- be sure to hear at least one. The solo cello works add a subdued poignancy to this ECM set, and the ensemble works are transparent and clear, while the Kairos disc is more intense, and the strings in the ensemble works form a less distinguishable sound mass, which is not bad, just different.
Based on what I've heard by Scelsi so far, I find that his music for strings best expresses his mystical goal, expressing the transcendence of the illusion of separateness through one sound. In spirit, if not in method (Scelsi had long years of Western musical training), this music has more in common with the ragas of Ali Akbar Khan and Ravi Shankar than with the European avant-garde.