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Luciano BERIO (1925–2003)
Sequenzas I – XIV

Sequenza I for flute (1958) [5:16]
Sequenza II for harp (1963) [9:28]
Sequenza III for female voice (1966) [7:37]
Sequenza IV for piano (1966) [10:56]
Sequenza V for trombone (1965) [5:34]
Sequenza VI for viola (1967) [14:53]
Sequenza VIIa for oboe (1969) [9:17]
Sequenza VIII for violin (1976) [12:32]
Sequenza IXa for clarinet (1980) [14:01]
Sequenza X for trumpet in C and pianoresonance (1984) [17:08]
Sequenza XI for guitar (1987-88) [16:28]
Sequenza XII for bassoon (1995) [16:18]
Sequenza XIII for accordion (chanson) (1995) [8:16]
Sequenza XIV for cello (2002) [13:09]
Sequenza VIIb for soprano saxophone (1995) [7:15]
Sequenza IXb for alto saxophone (1981) [13:50]
Nora Shulman (flute); Erica Goodman (harp); Tony Arnold (soprano); Boris Berman (piano); Alain Trudel (trombone); Steven Dann (viola); Matej Šarc (oboe); Jasper Wood (violin); Joaquin Valdepeńas (clarinet); Guy Few (trumpet); Pablo Sáinz Villegas (guitar); Ken Munday (bassoon); Joseph Petric (accordion); Darrett Adkins (cello); Wallace Halladay (saxophones)
rec. St John Chrysostom Church, Newmarket, Ontario, Canada, June 1998-May 2004. DDD
NAXOS 8.557661-63 [3 CDs: 63:02 + 60:09 + 58:48]
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This is a very attractive bargain. Berio’s Sequenza series, made up of works written over a period of more than thirty years, contains some of the most inventive solo music of the twentieth and (just) twenty-first centuries. Several of the individual compositions served to redefine the technical – and aesthetic – possibilities of the relevant instruments. It is in the nature of things that no one ‘complete’ recording is ever likely to include the ‘best’ recording of each item. But, given that there is no performance here which comes at all close to being an inadequate representation of the music, and that there are some quite outstanding performances, this set, with the added advantage of the Naxos price, deserves a place on the shelves of anyone with an interest in modern music.
Anne Ozorio is undoubtedly correct in saying that the 4 CD set of The Complete Sequenzas, Alternate Sequenzas on Mode (MODE 161/3 - see review) constitutes the most complete and, in many respects, the most brilliant collection of this music. I’ll take that as read and rather than undertake any kind of detailed comparison, I will concentrate on the considerable merits of this 3 CD set from Naxos.
Each of these pieces is a kind of miniature musical drama, an extended soliloquy which explores tones and emotions in terms of the particular resources – and not, of course the merely expected or conventional resources – of an individual instrument. The moods are various, though all share an intensity of focus which allows for both subtlety of detail and, at times, some long unconventionally melodic lines.
Some of the performances here need fear little comparison with any others. Ken Munday’s work in no. XII for bassoon is wonderfully virtuosic, circular-breathing and all. To say that in Sequenza III Tony Arnold balances passion and control, the histrionically excessive and the intimately breathy, with a sureness of touch that Cathy Berberian would have been proud of is, of course, to praise her very highly. Boris Berman gives an intelligent and thoughtful, even careful, but very persuasive, performance of Sequenza IV. His, though, is one of the performances which suffers a little from the over resonant acoustic of the recorded sound.
Virtually every one of these compositions is both a rewriting of its instrument’s past, a performative analysis of the way it has previously been played, with plenty of musical allusions to that history, and a kind of projection of a possible future for the instrument. So, for example, Sequenza VIIa for oboe, written for Heinz Holliger, more than glances at the instrument’s traditions but also finds room for some richly guttural passage-work which makes for startlingly beautiful contrasts and gives to the oboe a fully humanised fully vocal quality it has not often had. Sequenza I, for flute (written for Severino Gazzelloni, 1919-1992), is at times elegantly graceful, at times like some sort of Messiaenic birdsong and at times like an improvisation by Eric Dolphy.
Sequenza X for trumpet in C and pianoresonance is perhaps a little self-indulgent; one feels that its points could have been made a great deal more economically. However Sequenza XI for guitar (written for Eliot Fisk) is wittily allusive in the way it draws on the range of musical idioms associated with the instrument; what I can only describe as its cubist ‘take’ on flamenco is a minor masterpiece. Sequenza XIII is a joy, perhaps an unexpected joy for those of us not always enamoured of the accordion. It carries the subtitle ‘Chanson’ and certainly there is much here that relates to the popular French traditions of the instrument and to other European folk traditions; but all such material is reflected, as it were, in a musical mirror which is both distorting and revelatory. Other pieces, such as Sequenza V, for trombone, are perhaps more familiar – but even the least familiar of these compositions has a wealth of invention and idea to offer. It is good, too, to have the saxophone versions of the pieces for oboe and clarinet, especially when played with the suavity which Wallace Halladay brings to them.   
Some of the recordings by the original dedicatees of the individual pieces, and some of the recordings on Mode bring to the music a degree of insight and technical sophistication not quite matched by the Canadian performers here. But that shouldn’t put off any potential purchaser of this Naxos collection. This is not just a cheap alternative; it is an interesting, accomplished and rewarding collection, even if not quite as remarkable as the collection on Mode or as ‘authoritative’ as the original recordings on Deutsche Grammophon, and which happens to be a great deal less expensive. To be able to buy this collection for more or less the cost of a single full-price CD is a real privilege and opportunity. If you can afford the set on Mode as well, fine. If not, this Naxos set will give you rewarding and enthralling access to very good performances of some of the most remarkable music of our time.
Glyn Pursglove

see also review by Hubert Culot



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