MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around 2024
60,000 reviews
... and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             


Some items
to consider

new MWI
Current reviews

old MWI
pre-2023 reviews

paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews

Songs to Harp from
the Old and New World

all Nimbus reviews

all tudor reviews

Follow us on Twitter

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger

Crotchet   AmazonUK   AmazonUS


Luigi NONO (1924-1990)
Prometeo, Tragedia dell’ascolto (1984-6)
Petra Hoffman, Monika Baer (sopranos); Susanne Otto, Noa Frankel (altos); Hubert Meyer (tenor); Sigrun Schell, Gregor Dalal (speakers)
Solistenchor, Freiburg; Ensemble Recherche; Solistenensemble des Philharmonischen Orchesters Freiburg; Solistenensemble des SWR Sinfonieorchesters Baden-Baden und Freiburg; Experimentalstudio für akustische Kunst; former Experimentalstudio der Heinrich-Stobel-Stiftung des Südwestrundfunks; Andre Richard (director); Peter Hirsch, (conductor 1); Kwame Ryan, (conductor 2)
rec. 16-19 May 2003, Konzerthaus Freiburg.
COL LEGNO WWE 2SACD 20605 [66:38 + 64:54]
Experience Classicsonline

This is a smash and grab hit in more ways than one! When it was first released, single-minded thieves broke into the distributor’s warehouse in Vienna and stole 1000 copies. Since only 2000 copies were made in the first place, that’s half the world’s stock! This disc was deliberately targeted as the thieves had to move away crates of other, more popular recordings to get to it. They also took 200 copies of another Nono rarity. Why go to such trouble when they could have made so much more money with, say, Mozart’s Greatest Hits?

It’s true that secondhand, the first recording of Prometeo costs 50 at least, and the far rarer recording of Il canto sospeso, conducted by Abbado, costs 75 upwards, if you can find it. Col Legno certainly doesn’t benefit from the theft, though, as the 1000 recordings legally available retail at 25. This is remarkably good value indeed, as Prometeo requires vast forces – four orchestral ensembles, a choir, vocal and instrumental soloists, two conductors and a team of sound artists. This recording, too, has Andre Richard as artistic director. Richard worked closely with Nono as the piece was developed, so his insights are extremely valuable. No one interested in Nono should miss this. As always, good recordings are better value because you’ll listen to them far longer than inferior but cheaper cover versions. This is the real thing. Hopefully, it will be a success and Col Legno can press extra copies. Why should the black market benefit?

Prometeo is a work on a grand scale, a panoramic exploration of western civilisation, past and present. It starts with references to Gaia, the ancient world-spirit, and to Prometheus, who brought light from the Gods to man. There’s no narrative. It works, instead, as a highly sophisticated stream of consciousness, ideas unfolding impressionistically. Words and sounds fragment, building up inlayers and textures. This is the opposite of ego-driven music where one element is above another. Instead, Prometeo is like a finely woven thread where all elements exist in relation to each other. The overall effect is of oscillating, shimmering lines that flow, endlessly turning and being re examined. Conventional instruments are played in unusual ways, augmented and elaborated by electronics. Tempi and intervals vary. Silence, not noise, is paradoxically the aim behind this complexity. "It all has to be much quieter" said Nono frequently when he worked on the first performance, because the goal was that people should listen carefully. The word "Ascolta" rings out clearly. This isn’t music to be audited while affecting a mask of clinical detachment. It’s music that needs to be engaged with.

Nono told his speakers and singers not to read the text, but to feel it. That’s why the texts, fragment and reform as if in a kaleidoscope. They turn over endlessly in the imagination. Far from distorting meaning, this expands it. Anyone with a basic knowledge of early music will recognise the idea from medieval polyphony. Everyone more or less knew what the "words" meant on the surface but the true glory of the music revealed itself in the mingling of sound elements. Indeed, it’s because the words aren’t instantly obvious that you’re drawn to listening more attentively. This recording comes with a special "Listening score" which sets out each vocal part in layers, so you can see as well as hear how each voice takes on a particular syllable or sound, and how they blend and interweave. Thus you can follow how a short phrase like "né voce di Orfeo" expands and grows. Following the score isn’t essential, though, because it’s important to be alert to the details that flicker past, like a small quote from Schumann’s "Manfred" for example, which I still haven’t located, but just knowing it’s there adds to my appreciation. This is music that "opens out" in more than sound and space.

Word-setting like this is fascinating. In the second part of the fourth movement, almost at the heart of the whole piece, there’s a fragment from Hölderlin, the poet who wrote about Arcadia, an idealised, perfect vision of ancient Greece. Brahms set these very words in his own "Schicksalslied" but the two treatments could not be more different. Nono places the phrase "Doch uns ist gegeben auf keine Stätte zu ruhn" (unto us is given no place to rest) so the words curl over each other, restlessly expressing deep anguish. No wonder Hölderlin’s late work has such meaning for 20th century composers, for whom it mirrors the unstable turbulence of the modern world. People are tossed about, says Hölderlin, "blinding wie Wasser von Klippe zu Klippe" (blindly like water from cliff to cliff). It’s a disturbingly violent image, and yet so appropriate. There isn’t much hard ground in Prometeo, for it keeps floating and oscillating in free form. There are "islands" at various points where for a moment things seem to stabilise, only to float off again.

Why is the piece subtitled "Tragedia dell’ascolta" (the tragedy of listening)? That is one of the mysteries that makes this piece so intriguing, and makes repeat listenings addictive. Perhaps Nono means that no matter how much we listen, time and life will move on inexorably. Like Hölderlin’s dislocated people, there’s no place of rest. And yet, should we cease to bother with listening? Would that make things easier or would it mean the death of civilisation and human endeavour? The beauty of this piece is that it allows for so many possibilities, and rewards personal involvement. Much has been made of Nono’s politics but it’s a dead-end forcing onto this music any specific ideological template. Rather, one should perhaps think of Nono’s underlying motivation, which was his love for humanity. He hated fascism because it was authoritarian, forcing people into prescribed limitations. Prometeo, with its breaking of rigid form, and its ambiguities, allows so much room for interpretation, that responsibility is placed on the individual listener to engage and respond.. "Only when we reflect … on a world that is not one dimensional, not linear or causal, and not unambiguous, will it become possible to think beyond the ordinary, for a new, hopeful perspective" writes Lydia Jeschke, who knows Nono’s music so well.

On 8 and 9 May, 2008, at London’s South Bank, there’ll be two performances of Prometeo live, with the London Sinfonietta and others. Andre Richard will be on hand, too, as will the Freiburg Experimental Studio we hear here. No CD can possibly match the experience of hearing Nono live and in real-time, but this recording is as close as it gets. It’s made for SACD and uses the latest in sound technology to capture the finest detail. In the real world, people listen multi-directionally, not mono-aurally. What’s good about this disc is that sound is captured with such vivid freshness that in this sense alone its ambience outclasses earlier recordings. Anyone interested in Nono will be getting this disc whether or not they can get to the London performances - or to those in Europe. The thieves who ransacked the Vienna warehouse to steal 1000 copies of this disc certainly had excellent taste!

Anne Ozorio


see also Luigi Nono and the British Musical Intelligentsia by Stephen Beville


Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all Bridge reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

All Eloquence reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing




Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews


      Composer surveys
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site


Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure



Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Past and present

Helpers invited!

How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips

Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Other links
Web News sites etc

A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools

Return to Review Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.