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

2485 X

Bruno Maderna
Luciano Berio
Now, And Then

Orchestra della Szizzera italiana
Dennis Russell Davies
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.

Luciano Berio: Voci (ECM New Series 1735)


Luciano Berio

Kim Kashkashian viola
Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra
Luciano Berio conductor
Robyn Schulkowsky percussion
Recorded November 1999, ORF Studio, Vienna; May 2000, Teldec Studio, Berlin
Engineers: Josef Schütz and Peter Laenger
Produced by Manfred Eicher

The interest of Italian composer Luciano Berio (1925-2003) in folk music runs as deep as the grooves in his scores—trenches, rather, through which performers have been backpacking their talents since the latter half of the 20th century. In them are remnants of decay and sound intermingling with fantastical re-creations. Much of said interest has flowed through those earthly scars outward into other lands. French, Italian, Armenian, Azerbaijani, and American sources were all fair game in the path of his net, reaching notable culmination in his Folk Songs of 1964. The range of this touchstone composition places unenviable demands on the singer, who must convey respective flourishes and qualities as if they were her own. The brilliance of the piece lies less in Berio’s settings, per se, than in his decoupling of songs from their provenance. This act of displacement lends their motives clarity and reliability (an idea that would surely have been fresh for one who had just relocated to America for a series of teaching appointments). We can therefore assume that the settings were no mere archival gesture (two of the Folk Songs are his own), but rather a vibrant shuffling of idioms. In that world we encounter a roving gallery of maidens, fishermen, even a nightingale, and in each there is a new message. It is something of a comfort to know that, in the midst of this politically charged period, Berio remained true to roots as he saw them, even when they were not his own. The folk song was thus for him a found object. Like his contemporary Italo Calvino (who would write two librettos for the composer), Berio was an interdisciplinary storyteller who meshed experimental and traditional impulses, and in the process saw fit to fit what he saw.

Voci (1984) continues the thread first spun in Folk Songs, but stares deeper into the looking glass. As the center of this exemplary recording from ECM’s New Series, it radiates with warmth and tactile force. Its focus is on the sights, sounds, and smells of Sicily, and in them finds a suitable color palette from which to sketch and paint. Its inaugural gesture of bells and viola is not unlike the solo introduction to Ravel’s Tzigane in its thorough physicality. The analogy stops there, however, for Voci is anything but a showpiece. It rings in the air like the street calls, lullabies, and folk tunes that inspired it, minimally dressed. Violist Kim Kashkashian and the Vienna RSO are ideal and formidable interpreters, bringing renewed variety to the piece’s inherent textures as compared to the reference recording by Aldo Bennici (for whom it was written) fronting the London Sinfonietta. Kashkashian carries full orchestral weight in her bow, keening her way through the piece’s epic travels with confidence. Fragmentary dances and incantations trade hands, carving circuitous paths around an elusive center. The colorful blend of percussion (courtesy of the great Robyn Schulkowsky), winds, and strings surrounding her form a pastiche of rusticity that brims with practically excessive totality. This is not the careful revelry of the attentive archivist, but rather the unrest of the enraptured interpreter, translating, transforming, and deconstructing.

In a fitting stroke of programming panache, producer Manfred Eicher includes five field recordings from the very regions that so entranced Berio. Of these, the lament is especially magnetic. Mournful though it is, it also undergirds a heavy weight of realization: the folk song is no fleeting thing. Rather, it continues to sing itself into existence even in the absence of voices, working its way into the very soil and thrumming among the dead. This makes Kashkashian’s performance all the more worthy of praise, for she does what many singers have done before her with a shaft of hair, rosin, and four strings.

After this dive into “agro-pastoral” authenticity, we return to land in Naturale (1985), which combines the composer’s own song recordings with viola and percussion. Although more than a mere Voci redux, its effects are nearly identical, drawn as they are from the same starting point. The intimacy factor is higher, the mirror more polished, the sun lower in the sky.

As Berio would have been the first to admit, the “cannibalization” process by which these strains made their way into his meticulous constructions remain free from romantic visions of preservation and speak to a process of linear progression in the continued search for new directions through the fusion of disparate paths. We can be thankful that some of those paths lead straight into our ears.