Schubert sonatas

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Piano solo and duet
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Luciano BERIO (1925 – 2003)
Naturale (1985)a [18:40]
Chemins II (1967)b [13:18]
Morton FELDMAN (1926 – 1987)

Rothko Chapel (1971)c [23:12]
The Viola in My Life II (1970)d [9:46]
Christophe Desjardins (viola); Jacqueline Ott (percussion)a; Basler Madrigalistenc: Collegium Novum Zürichbcd; Jonathan Nott (conductor)bcd
Recorded: DRS Radiostudio 1, Zürich, March 2004
AEON AECD 0425 [65:14]

Berio’s Sequenza series occupied him throughout his career. Not only did he compose such Sequenzas for solo instruments till late in his composing life; he also re-worked some of them later adding orchestral or instrumental commentary onto the solo part of the original. There are several examples of this amongst the Chemins (such as Chemins II heard here) or in Corale (1981, based on Sequenza VIII for solo violin). Chemins II for viola and nine players is based on Sequenza VI (1967) for solo viola. Some time later, Berio completed Chemins III adding a full orchestra to the viola-and-ensemble version heard here. However, neither Chemins II nor Chemins III should be regarded as viola concertos. In fact, the solo part is fully absorbed into the orchestral fabric, exploiting the latent potentialities of the solo Sequenza rather than merely "orchestrating" it. Naturale for viola, percussion and tape, completed in 1985, is a sequel to Voci (1984) for viola and orchestra, in that both pieces are based on Sicilian tunes. In the case of Naturale, a Sicilian street singer is heard on tape, whereas the viola in turn muses on the tunes, comments on them, sets out to imitate or contradict them in a most imaginative way, the percussion adding a further dimension to the proceedings. Naturale was new to me; and it is a real find, for this is a quite beautiful piece of music. I also enjoyed Desjardins’ performance of this technically demanding, but ultimately very attractive work. A welcome addition to Berio’s discography.

The two pieces by Feldman heard here are in stark contrast to Berio’s works. Berio is all imagination and lively energy, whereas Feldman is all restraint, softness, tenderness even. Rothko Chapel for viola, mixed chorus (wordless) and percussion is a beautiful work, fairly simple in conception but perfectly balanced. It is Feldman in his minimalist, almost mystical manner. The music hovers timelessly, in rarefied air, punctuated by sparse but suggestive percussion, with telling results. In the coda, the viola intones a fine melody - written when the composer was fifteen - curiously reminiscent of Vaughan Williams.

Feldman composed four pieces sharing the same title, i.e. The Viola in My Life: for viola and five players (1970), viola and six players (1970) heard here, viola and piano (1970), viola and orchestra (1971). In The Viola in My Life II, the music again moves slowly, dreamily, sparsely supported by a few isolated instrumental touches from the ensemble. Curiously enough, the expressive strength of this and of Rothko Chapel is inversely proportional to the economy of means displayed.

Christophe Desjardins is a formidable musician. His faultless technique goes hand in hand with a generous musicality. He plays beautifully throughout, whereas Jonathan Nott secures immaculate, precise playing and singing from the Collegium Novum and the Basler Madrigalisten. This is a marvellous release and my disc of the month.

Hubert Culot

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