Stefano Scodanibbio: Alisei (ECM New Series 2598)

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Stefano Scodanibbio
Alisei

Daniele Roccato double bass
Giacomo Piermatti double bass
Ludus Gravis Ensemble
Tonino Battista conductor
Recorded February and March 2014 at Pitch Audio Research, Perugia, and Studio Controfase, Roma
Tonmeister: Gianluca Ruggeri
Engineers: Daniele Roccato, Luca Mari Burocchi, and Tommaso Cancellieri
Executive producer: Manfred Eicher
Release date: October 12, 2018

Stefano Scodanibbio (1956-2012) was introduced to ECM via 2013’s Reinventions. Whereas that program documented the Italian double bassist and composer’s passing of Bach’s Art of the Fugue through a loom of Spanish and Mexican influences, here the focus is on what might just be Scodanibbio’s most personal work. Personal, too, is the liner note by Daniele Roccato, who describes hearing Scodanibbio perform for the first time at a Paris festival in 2008: “For me, it was an epiphany. The performance of a shaman, evoking an unprecedented world of sound, one he commanded with boldness and determination.” So began a mutually respectful partnership between two creative souls who shared a love for the lowest of the strings, and by that love opened doors of perception not simply closed but so well hidden that none even knew where to look until now.

The 1986 title composition for solo double bass is emblematic of an implosion-oriented approach. Its harmonic inventions, drawn from within, expose the willingness of a composer to listen to his instrument in the deepest possible sense. In addition to its organic genesis, it emits an industrial aura: the whine of grinding machinery and a human voice in agony rolled into one. Another solo piece, Due pezzi brillanti (1985), lends crosswise insight into the double bass’s split personality, in which the rhythmic and the textural serve as conduits of emotional stability. Like a microscope through which one may observe the inner workings of one’s own body, it implies an eternal braid of regard. Jagged yet interlocking, it fits into place by questioning the place itself.

The album features two premiere recordings. In Da una certa nebbia (2002), rhetorically scored for “double bass and another double bass,” the latter instrument is seen as, as Roccato puts it, “a sort of ‘misty veiling’ over the suspensions of the main double bass, in a temporal articulation which pays implicit tribute to the musical thinking of Morton Feldman.” In that role, alongside Roccato, is Giacomo Piermatti, whose gentle persuasions are indeed translucent. In this largely arco suspension, pizzicato gestures feel like punches, gentle as they are. The Ottetto (2011) was the result of a dream to write a piece for eight double basses that would unlock even graver secrets. Partly inspired by the ensemble of double basses featured here as Ludus Gravis, and partly by the efforts of two friends to see their muse spread its wings like never before, the piece is a meditative self-examination of sentient objects. Every moment of its 30-minute duration is imbued with intent. Whether conventionally or unconventionally bowed, treated as voice or percussive actor, each instrument takes on an aspect of nature from which it feels indivisible. Sometimes-insectile vibrations breathe the same air as subcutaneous twitches, while aboveground gestures feel like rituals in search of gods. In light of Scodanibbio’s death, which prevented him from seeing its first complete performance, implications of the Ottetto’s final drone exhale with mortal significance.

Arvo Pärt: The Symphonies (ECM New Series 2600)

Pärt Symphonies

Arvo Pärt
The Symphonies

NFM Wrocław Philharmonic
Tõnu Kaljuste conductor
Recorded August 2016 and October 2015 (Symphony No. 3)
Main Hall of the National Forum of Music, Wrocław
Engineers: Andrzej Sasin and Aleksandra Nagórko
Mastering: Christoph Stickel, MSM Studios, München
An ECM Production
Release date: April 20, 2018

Following the release of his Symphony No. 4 in 2010, it was perhaps only a matter of time before a compendium of Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s symphonies would also come to light on ECM. And what a light we can enjoy through the prism of all four, newly recorded by the NFM Wrocław Philharmonicunder the direction of Pärt’s untiring messenger, Tõnu Kaljuste. What these works, separated by decades of time and soul-searching, lack in duration (given that they all fit snugly onto one CD) they make up for in their dynamic and textural scope. In the album’s liner note, music critic Wolfgang Sandner writes: “To study and listen to symphonies is, in essence, to read and comprehend a biography in notes.” In this respect, symphonies are aesthetic snapshots of a composer’s life at those times. Like stencils applied to the past, they filter out anything extraneous to the meaning at hand, funneling our attention into particular shapes and therefore boundaries of possible interpretation.

In listening to the Symphony No. 1, penned almost half a century before his Fourth, we hear what Sandner refers to as the “jagged caesuras” of Pärt’s inner landscape: deeply personal snapshots from a time when composers under the Soviet flag were forced to weigh idiosyncrasy and conformity on a scale of creative expression. Pärt was willing to take the risks that came with upending that scale altogether, and was summarily banned as a composer when, in 1968, he professed Christian faith via his Credofor piano, mixed chorus and orchestra. Five years earlier, the First Symphony was already in genesis. Dubbed the “Polyphonic,” it bears dedication to Heino Eller, his professor at the State Conservatory in Tallinn. Constructed around a twelve-note row (E-F-F#-B-Bb-G-A-Eb-D-Ab-Db-C), it is divided into two movements. “Canons” is a thick slice of serial pie, and like the proverbial desert reveals delectable combinations of starch and sweetness with every bite. The “Prelude and Fugue,” by contrast, begins with lighter strings before jumping into a pastoral interlude and, in conclusion, an insistent cluster of rhythmic and tonal artifacts.

Although the Symphony No. 2 (1966) is also cured around a twelve-note row, it feels less constrained by formula. Its brevity (the symphony barely crests the ten-minute mark) is its strength. At this time, Pärt was working in what he called a “collage” technique, by which resolution was reduced to a petty dream in favor of metamorphosis. Its first movement is a kaleidoscope of motifs, atmospheres, and collisions by which is rendered not a mosaic but a centrifuge of philosophy. The block chords of the second movement are urgent, thrown by their own weight into a black hole of identity reformation. The third and final movement, percussive minutiae and all, glimpses the mind of a composer reaching for something more than what reality has to offer, as indicated in his quotation of “Sweet Dreams” from Tchaikovsky’s Album for the Young. It ends as if unresolved, stepping into the pastures of the future.

By the 1971, when Pärt was writing his Symphony No. 3, he was well into a period of self-reflection that led him to declare a Russian Orthodox conversion. This symphony is the first breach of that spiritual watershed—both musical and personal—that cut the umbilical cord of the avant-garde. Dedicated to conductor Neeme Järvi, this tripartite monument touches upon the prayerful unfolding that now characterizes the mature composer. In the second movement especially, a familiar lyrical nature struggles to break through the soil of political nurture, pulled from its reasoning by a force that would otherwise refute it. The final movement describes the old flesh wrestling with the new, eventually giving over to a medieval polyphony and blast of hope.

If the Symphony No. 4 (2008) sounds more choral, that is because it overflows with voices: of history, of experience, and even of persecution. Bearing dedication to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, an exiled Russian mogul once jailed for his critical outspokenness, it wears decidedly liturgical clothing. The pizzicato textures of its second movement are the stirrings of a soul wanting to be heard, while the coda breathes in hope and exhales caution, never letting go of the rope in its hand. And attached to the other end that rope? A vessel of the past on which has been loaded the cargo of our sins, which one way will be unloaded, weighed, and accounted for.

Zsófia Boros: Local Objects (ECM New Series 2498)

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Zsófia Boros
Local Objects

Zsófia Boros classical guitar
Recorded November 2015, Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI, Lugano
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: October 3, 2016

He knew that he was a spirit without a foyer
And that, in this knowledge, local objects become
More precious than the most precious objects of home
–Wallace Stevens

When classical guitarist Zsófia Boros made her ECM debut with En otra parte, she did so not by planting a flag but by opening a door. Where that door led was mostly left to the listener, guided only by the signposts of an internationally minded program. Here, she treats an equally mixed corpus as a movie screen, working with an auteur’s patience to render establishing shots before allowing full scenes to take shape.

The first stirrings of character development come into view with Mathias Duplessy’s Nocturne, which by its depth of suggestion foreshadows a bittersweet ending. So intimate is its approach to darkness that can almost wear it as a cloak of protection against a blinding world. Boros gives a superb technical performance, especially in her application of harmonics, but even more so an emotional performance that turns gestures into possibilities of new lives.

Next, Egberto Gismonti’s Celebração de Núpcias, a harmonious roll of fragrant arpeggios and falling petals that first appeared on 1977’s Dança das Cabeças, is reborn in the present rendering. It’s the first of a few South American touch points that include Jorge Cardoso’swidely performed yet freshly realized Milonga (its familiar bass line a vital narrative fulcrum) and Anibal Augusto Sardinha’s Inspiração. All are bound by a feeling of kinship and inspiration: reminders to be oneself when all else fails.

Carlo Domeniconi’s Koyunbaba, named for a 15th-century Turkish saint, is another concert favorite, which for all its hermitic solitude is alive with movement. Its distant calls of intuition, achingly beautiful Cantabile, and energizing Presto, for which Boros places paper over the strings before leaping into a full-throated cry of tenderness, make for an intensely tactile experience. Against these, Al Di Meola’s Vertigo Shadow and Franghiz Ali-Zadeh’s Fantasie are spirals of geometric endurance in the puzzle of identity. The latter piece leaves room for improvisation in order to make the story the interpreter’s own. Boros floats around every note, drawing an entire garden’s worth of ideas and melodies. Via muted strings, she expresses unmuted emotions.

Our bittersweet ending is realized in Alex Pinter’s Gothenburg. It’s the sonic equivalent of knowing you will never see a loved one again yet also knowing they’ve become an indivisible part of you. Like strings on an instrument, you and they have their own voice and path, yet echo together in the same chamber of existence, waiting for that divine hand to pluck them before fate has its way of silence.

Frode Haltli: AIR (ECM New Series 2496)

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AIR

Frode Haltli accordion
Trondheim Soloists
Arditti Quartet
Irvine Arditti 
violin
Ashot Sarkissjan violin
Ralf Ehlers viola
Lucas Fels violoncello
Recorded October and November 2014, Selbu Kirke, Norway
Engineer: Sean Lewis
Mastering: Manfred Eicher and Christoph Stickel
Executive producer: Manfred Eicher
Release date: August 26, 2016

AIRmarks a classical return to ECM for Norwegian accordion player Frode Haltli, who now, as on his label debut, offers a program centered around the music of Danish composer Bent Sørensen. For that album’s title piece, Looking on Darkness, Haltli was required to rethink his approach to the instrument in search of softer dynamics and bent pitches, and deepens those quasi-linguistic impulses here.

Sørensen provides the album’s frame tale. It is Pain Flowing Down Slowly on a White Wall (2010), written for solo accordion and string orchestra, feels vulnerable to something beyond grasp of flesh and time. Despite a lack of footholds, if not also because of said lack, the accordion takes on a winged materiality, destined to never touch solid ground. The relationship between it and the strings demonstrates Haltli’s own views on chamber music, of which he writes: “It demands fellow musicians who really listen, and who can move flexibly and playfully between various levels in the music according to what the music is telling you—not musicians who constantly need to be in front.” Indeed, “soloist” becomes a reductive term in the present context, favoring instead a larger whole. Movements of great distance share breathing room with dreams of proximity in a constantly shifting topography, as if the very earth were struggling to hold its shape. And so, when the string players at last trade bows for melodicas, it comes across—ironically enough—as an act of solidarity. Like Sigrid’s Lullaby (2010), adapted for solo accordion from a nocturne, it dips a hand into the font of time and swirls until all colors blend into one.

Between those two poles stretch the telephone wires of another Dane I expect (and hope) to hear more of on ECM: Hans Abrahamsen. His Air (2006) for solo accordion (2006) not only yields the album’s title but more importantly its spirit. A haunting experience that’s difficult to imagine in anyone’s hands but Haltli’s, it narrates texture and space with autobiographical assurance. Its molecules move so slightly, so continuously, as to appear still. Air is also something of a palindrome, beginning and ending in a wash of chords, while in the middle revealing a dance that returns to dust as quickly as it is born from it. And while the instrumental forces of Three Little Nocturnes (2005) for string quartet and accordion feel much more distinct than on Sørensen’s sound-world, they are deeply harmonized in rhythm, each inhaling the other as deeply as it can before the final exhale.

Haltli’s assessment of Abrahamsen’s music, of which he observes, “Not one note is accidental,” applies to the album in its entirety. Not only because these pieces are capturable on paper, but also because they treat that paper as the skin of an individual life.

Jörg Widmann: ARCHE (ECM New Series 2605/06)

Arche

Jörg Widmann
ARCHE

Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Hamburg
Marlis Petersen soprano
Thomas E. Bauer baritone
Gabriel Böer boy soprano
Jonna Plathe child narrator
Baris Özden child narrator
Iveta Apkalna organ
Chor der Hamburgischen Staatsoper
Audi Jugendchorakadamie
Hamburger Alsterspatzen
Kent Nagano 
conductor
Concert recording by NDR from the opening of the Hamburg Elbphilharmonie on January 13, 2017
Tonmeister: Hans-Michael Kissing
Engineer: Dominik Blech
Editing, mix, and mastering: Carl Talbot and Anne-Marie Sylvestre (engineer)
A NDR Production
Release date: October 5, 2018

Let our book of debts be cancell’d!
Reconcile the total world!
E’en the dead shall live in heaven!
Brothers, drink and all agree,
Every sin shall be forgiven,
Hell forever cease to be.
–Friedrich Schiller

Written to inaugurate Hamburg’s new Elbphilharmonie concert hall in January of 2017, Jörg Widmann’s massive oratorio for soloists, choirs, organ and orchestra was inspired by the architecture of the hall itself. The composer recalls his reaction upon seeing the unfinished building for the first time: “From the outside the building resembles a ship… To me the interior looked like the hold of a ship, an Ark. It breathes the spirit of democracy!” From that initial epiphany followed a work that seeks to encapsulate the thrust of Continental history while parrying its trajectory via politically savvy retrospection.

Sadly enough, despite the obvious amount of heartfelt effort that went into this performance, there’s a certain emptiness to its presentation, not least of all in the fact that no English translations of the libretto are included in the CD booklet. This is an unfortunate omission. We know that Widmann has sewn together writings by Claudius, Klabund, Heine, Sloterdijk, Andersen, Brentano, Schiller, Francis of Assisi, Nietzsche, Schmmelpfennig, Thomas of Celano, and Michelangelo, as well as the German folk collection Des Knaben Wunderhorn, the Latin Mass for the Dead, and the Bible itself. Without the otherwise excellent liner notes by Dieter Rexroth, the grander scope of what Widmann is doing textually would likely be lost on non-German speakers.

To be sure, however, some fascinating musical dramaturgy awaits the adventurous listener willing to surmount the linguistic barrier, and what few clues we are given are just enough to let the finer nuances get swept away in the experience. The warped blasts of organ and choral surges in “Sintflut” (The Flood) are especially thrilling, and provide strange respite from the text-heavy surroundings. Inclusive of the opening section, “Fiat Lux” (Let there be light), two child narrators link the even broader brushstrokes of creation leading to the repainted canvas of the Flood. Between respirations, voices shift in tectonic frictions of flesh and spirit. Whether spoken or sung, whispered or shouted, each utterance is an open doorway into the fractured nature of time. In this milieu, words seem to act as buoys and anchors alike, while baritone soloist Thomas E. Bauer embodies the oratorio’s titular vessel struggling against raging waves.

Emerging from these troubled waters is the volcano of “Die Liebe” (Love), wherein bubbles the molten sentiments of the Song of Songs, even as a poem by Michelangelo asserts its three-dimensional dominance. The lovers—of which soprano Marlis Petersen’s renderings are alive with virtue and desire—find synchronicity only toward the end of their respective journeys, as if mocking the destination of a tested faith. For as soon as those travelers lock step, the ground falls from beneath their feet in the apocalyptic “Dies irae.” Beneath those voices, whose incongruence bursts through Schiller’s unused “Ode to Joy” verses like water from a broken dam, a visceral percussive landscape splits Hell wide open.

“Dona nobis pacem” pushes the Catholic liturgy against a litany of technological obsessions, chanted by children’s choir as if in defiance of the modern world’s rituals, both sacred and profane, so that when boy soprano Gabriel Böer cuts through the din like a shooting star of reason, it’s with a sharpness more effective than any blade, honed as it is on a metaphysical stone of hope in a higher power.

“Love not sleep, lest thou come to poverty; open thine eyes, and thou shalt be satisfied with bread.”
–Proverbs 20:13

Christian Reiner: Joseph Brodsky – Elegie an John Donne (ECM New Series 2513)

Elegie an John Donne.jpg

Christian Reiner
Joseph Brodsky: Elegie an John Donne

Read by Christian Reiner
Recorded 2014-2017, Garnison 7, Wien
Recording engineer: Martin Siewert
Mastering at MSM Studio, München
Engineer: Christoph Stickel
Produced by Manfred Eicher and Wolf Wondratschek
An ECM and Joint Galactical Company Production
Release date: August 25, 2017

No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.
–John Donne

Following his acclaimed readings of Friedrich Hölderlin’s Turmgedichte, by turns stark and revealing, Viennese actor Christian Reiner adds as many layers as he peels away in his approach to Russian-American poet Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996). Although Brodsky was imprisoned in his native Russia as a dissenter, he never explicitly engaged the issue of incarceration until later in life. His lack of self-importance was one of many facets that imbued his verses with microscopic insight into the human condition. Even when awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1987, he accepted the honor with humility. A vivid chunk of that humility can be found in what Reiner considers to be his masterwork—1963’s “Great Elegy to John Donne”—which is presented here in two German translations among a tract of shorter, life-spanning selections.

It was in prison, in fact, that Brodsky first read Donne, when a writer friend sent him a book by the English poet. Yet Brodsky’s “Elegy” is more than a paean to a kindred spirit; it’s the recognition of a voice caught between its earthly origins and heavenly destination. His litany of mundane objects—crystal, linen, stockings, and the like—read like a perverse genealogy of material lives. For in the same way that we have succumbed to the immaterial promises of recognition, so do the connective tissues of human and nonhuman experiences string the very tightropes along which our deepest anxieties vie for balance. Just as Donne has died, so too is the world drained of life, unable to finish its own diary with that final answer of Heaven or Hell. Everything is sinking in speech: voices whose owners refuse to identify themselves. Archangels and prophets, kings and slaves, martyrs and murderers—all depleting the same oxygen supply of moral spectra. “All things are distant,” Brodsky writes. “What is near is dim.” Endurance is a fantasy replicated in reality, wherein fingertips graze the backs of our necks with demonic tingling, forever unclear.

Reiner’s diction is characteristically architectural in nuance, as heard in the pained urgency of “In Memoriam Fedja Dobrowolskij” (1958). More importantly, he understands the pregnancy of a pause. His recitation of selected “Strophes” (1978) embodies that philosophy to the fullest, making of silence its own vocabulary. In the sensually inflected“From Nowhere with Love” (Aus nirgendwo in Liebe, 1976), the voice becomes the body, bouncing memories of communion off its own burnished mirror of expression. In the brief, morbid “A Polar Explorer” (Der Polarforscher, 1978), 40 seconds is enough to open the jar of hope and let its rancid contents spill out into the cold. “Lullaby” (Wiegenlied, 1992), by contrast, renders shades of redemption through fixation on immaculate maternity. Throughout these and more, Reiner adds weight to Brodsky’s lists and uncertainty to his spiritual invocations, treating words like shingles for a roof, beams for a doorway, and glass for a window. What we end up with, then, isn’t a house of coherence but a chapel of hard-won truths.

Eleni Karaindrou: Tous des oiseaux (ECM New Series 2634)

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Eleni Karaindrou
Tous des oiseaux

Savina Yannatou voice
Alexandros Botinis violoncello
Stella Gadedi flute
Vangelis Christopoulos oboe
Yannis Evangelatos bassoon
Dinos Hadjiiordanou accordion
Aris Dimitriadis mandolin
Maria Bildea harp
Eleni Karaindrou piano
Sokratis Sinopoulos Constantinople lyra, lute
Nikos Paraoulakis ney
Stefanos Dorbarakis kanonaki
Giorgos Kontoyannis percussion, Cretan lyra
String Orchestra
Argyro Seira concertmaster
Recorded October 2017 and January 2018 at Studio Sierra, Athens
Recording engineer: Giorgos Karyotis
Edited and mixed September 2018 by Manfred Eicher and Giorgos Karyotis
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: January 25, 2019

“Why little birdy don’t you sing
As you used to sing before?
Oh, how could I,
They had my wings severed.”

In her eleventh album for ECM, Greek composer Eleni Karaindrou gifts us with some of her most poignant music yet. Poignant because, on a political level, it intersects with issues deeply relevant to today’s social climate and, while on a personal level shifting from the Theo Angelopoulos era that quietly ushered her artistry into global imagination.

Music for the play Tous des oiseaux by Lebanese-Canadian writer Wajdi Mouawad is subject of the album’s first half. As is characteristic of Karaindrou, it’s more than incidental but a living part of the dramaturgical landscape. And despite a wide array of instruments, including string orchestra, lyra, kanonaki, oboe, harp, flute, accordion, and cello, the mood is as intimate as it should be for a play centering on the love shared between an Arab American and a German-born Jew. The latter’s Zionist father, David, despite his anger over the relationship, must deal with the revelation of his own Palestinian birth, thereby sending him into a vicious spiral of identity politics.

The drone in which opener “The Wind of War” rests is an accurate representation of that spiritual unrest, the symbolic backdrop against which this story unfolds. As with any history, if you zoom back, it seems to unify in texture. But get close enough to regard individual lives within it, and suddenly conflicts of human error become obvious. Vocalist Savina Yannatou, familiar to ECM listeners as a bandleader in her own right, sings wordlessly, here as also in “Encounter” and “The Impossible Journey”—a voice still voiceless, because it is heard from afar. Even in Yannatou’s unaccompanied “Lament,” a 13th-century Greek song, she cannot pull words from their graves. As one of three solos, along with “Towards the Unknown” for flute and “Je ne me consolerai jamais” for cello, it consigns the fate of an entire people, grazed by breath and weaponry of chance.

In “The Dark Secret” and “David’s Dream,” both for string orchestra, individuals vie subtly for attention, but are drowned by collective trauma. Time becomes timeless, a variation on a theme, just familiar enough to feel real yet off-kilter enough to illuminate mysteries of waking life. “The Confession” adds to that milieu the beat of a drum: reality calling. Like the intersection of oboe and harp in “Why?” or the lyra, ney, and kanonaki of “Between Two Worlds,” it’s a dance without ground. A love divided by self.

Music for Iranian auteur Payman Maadi’s film Bomb, A Love Story constitutes the second half. As the first film Karaindrou has scored since Angelopoulos’s death, it’s a bittersweet milestone. Using the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to set in motion its narrative of self-searching, the film shows us not only that the personal is political, but also that the political is personal. Karaindrou’s soundtrack mirrors that philosophy by foregrounding the bassoon of Yannis Evangelatos, whose instrument—a marginal one in the woodwind family—echoes the marginality of the film’s characters. In this instance, the orchestra serves as omniscient narrator, sending shimmers of hope through “Love Theme,” in which the oboe of Vangelis Christopoulos and the piano of Karaindrou herself fall into shadow: dreams never realized. If not for that, “The Waltz of Hope” might not come across so much as a fantasy and “Lonely Lives” as truth. Further sentiments of travel (“Mitra’s Theme – Walking in Tehran”) and innocence (“Love’s First Call”) touch and part across maps of indifference. Which is why in the “Reconciliation Theme” we find the most instruments deployed at once, recalling the richness of Angelopoulos’s character studies. Only now that mist has been lifted, exposing figures whose every feature cries with vivid detail.

Bruno Maderna/Luciano Berio: Now, And Then (ECM New Series 2485)

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Bruno Maderna
Luciano Berio
Now, And Then

Orchestra della Szizzera italiana
Dennis Russell Davies
conductor
Pablo Márquezguitar
Recorded August 2015, Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI, Lugano
Engineer: Michael Rast (RSI)
Editing and mixing: Michael Rast and Manfred Eicher
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: October 27, 2017

Bruno Maderna (1920-1973) was an instrumental force in contemporary music throughout the 1950s, when composers of “modern” persuasion were still struggling to at once uphold and break open the secrets of bygone masters. Maderna was no stranger to the past and had a particular fondness for the clarity of the Italian Baroque, as evidenced in his transcriptions of Girolamo Frescobaldi, Giovanni Legrenzi, Giovanni Gabrieli, Tommaso Lodovico da Viadana, and Unico Wilhelm van Wassenaer presented by the Orchestra della Szizzera italiana under the baton of Dennis Russell Davies.

It should come as no surprise that Maderna had a love for the theatre, as these pieces breathe like dramaturgical backdrops to well-studied action. While nearly all of them date from 1952, the sole exception is Gabrieli’s Canzone a tre cori (1969/72), of which Maderna’s recrafting turns glory into lyrical shadow. Frescobaldi’s Tre Pezzi (1952), by contrast, constitute an exercise in contradiction. Robust yet naïve, they move fluidly across and between planes of exposition. The liturgical center, comprised of a brief “Christe” and “Kyrie,” hints at a spiritual undercurrent before deferring to a regal finish. Against this, La Basadonna (1951-52) is a delightful interlude that dances with delicate assurance across this dioramic stage. As heartbeats of golden ages mesh into an elegy for silver futures, Viadana’s Le Sinfonie (1952) reads like an archive of memory. It’s portrait of Italian cities bustles with life and character. Of these, the buoyant “La Venetiana” recalls the programmatic brilliance of Carlo Farina. Last is the “Palestrina-Konzert” (1952) by Wassenaer. Once attributed to Pergolesi, this gorgeous triptych sets up an alluring Vivace through two slower precursors. Enchanting sonorities abound.

From all of these, we know that Maderna understood Baroque music as a giant wheel, sporting a clearly defined center from which regular spokes extended to an more open perimeter. His respect for that underlying architecture reveals its own.

Lodged therein, between the Legrenzi and Gabrieli, is Chemins V, a self-transcription of Sequenza XI (1987-88) by Luciano Berio (1925-2003), with whom Maderna founded Europe’s first electronic music studio, the Studio de fonologia musicale di Radio Milano. This piece, composed in 1992, receives its premiere recording here. Featuring guitarist Pablo Márquez on the instrument for which it was originally written, it’s a deeply psychological journey. Márquez navigates every topographical change with confidence, finding purchase on the narrowest of cliffs and staying grounded on the slipperiest of terrain. Brimming with Berio’s uncanny ability to make the beautiful eerie and vice versa, it treats the guitar as leading voice and internal percussion, ambulating without apparent direction until the subdued, shimmering finale. Worth the price of entry alone, this rare morsel in an already-rich covering speaks to the core of our being as a species at a time when uncertainty rules the day.

Burkhard Reinartz: Eine Olive des Nichts (ECM New Series 2435)

Eine Olive des Nichts

Burkhard Reinartz
Eine Olive des Nichts

Burkhard Reinartz conception, reciter
Anja Lais reciter
Bruno Winzen reciter
Recorded August 2013, Rheinklang Tonstudio, Köln
Recording engineer/sound design: Alexander Hardt
Album produced by Burkhard Reinartz
Release date: September 19, 2015

For Eine Olive des Nichts (An Olive of Nothingness), Cologne-based radio director Burkhard Reinartz has curated a personal collage of poetry by Adam Zagajewski, Tomas Tranströmer, and Philippe Jaccottet, as read by Anja Lais, Bruno Winzen, and Reinartz himself. More than a spoken word project, however, it coheres by virtue of music drawn from ECM’s vast back catalog by Eivind Aarset, Susanne Abbuehl, Jon Balke, Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin, the Stefano Battaglia Trio, the Wolfert Brederode Quartet, Ketil Bjørnstad, David Darling, Andrey Dergatchev, Mathias Eick, Sidsel Endresen, Morton Feldman, Food, Michael Galasso, Paul Giger, Jon Hassell, Arve Henriksen, the Benedict Jahnel Trio, Meredith Monk, Arvo Pärt, Michele Rabbia, Trygve Seim, Steve Tibbetts, Tomasz Stanko, the Bobo Stenson Trio, the Tarkovsky Quartet, Steven Kovacs Tickmayer, and the Christian Wallumrød Ensemble, amounting to a play without a stage, if not a film without images.

Unlike Re: ECM by Ricardo Villalobos and Max Loderbauer, in which ECM snippets were stretched into barely recognizable washes of ambience, or, at the other end of the spectrum, Christian Reiner’s bare readings of Friedrich Hölderlin on Turmgedichte, here a haunting medium between the two is struck. Interwoven with the poets’ reflections on their art and pockmarked with plenty of nostalgic moments for label listeners, this montage of creations and creators speaks with a timeless quality, as if one could enter and exit it at any moment and it would continue flowing, with or without us.

Reinartz

Even without a shred of German recall, ECM completists and adventurous listeners alike will find purchase in this project’s deft blend of speech and sound. One can also appreciate the intimacy with which the poetry is read—so intimate, in fact, that one feels like they shouldn’t be there, as if the words were intensely private, fogging the mirrors between conscious and unconscious awareness.

The mixing of samples is seamless, passionate dip into the label’s oeuvre. Whether in the nocturnal tinges of Hassell’s “Blue Period” and Darling’s “Darkwood IV” or the sun-drenched excursions of Tibbetts’s 12-string, in the downward rhythmic spirals of “Modul 42” by Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin or the poignant elegy of Stanko’s “Dirge For Europe,” the inner lives of familiar tunes reveal fresh perspectives of association. Much like the poetry they surround, meanings in this music are suggested by their connection to lived experiences, and through those connections invite us to graft our own.