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Luciano BERIO (1925-2003)
Sequenza I for flute (1958) [6’28]
Sequenza IV for piano (1966) [11’42]
SequenzaVIII for violin (1975-76) [12’58]
Sequenza IXa for clarinet (1980) [12’51]
Sequenza XIV for cello (2002) [11’32]
Due Pezzi for violin and piano (1951) [6’31]
Musica Leggera for flute, viola, cello and basque drum [2’12]
Les Mots son Alles, recitativo (1976-78) [3’31]
Lied for clarinet (1983) [3’56]
Ex Novo Ensemble (Daniele Ruggieri (flute); Davide Teodoro (clarinet and basque drum); Carlo Lazari (violin and viola); Carlo Teodoro (cello); Aldo Orvieto (piano))
rec. 3-4 May 2005, Chiesa di S.Maria Annunziata (Vicenza) and Silano Zanta Studio, Campoverardo (Padova)
BLACK BOX BBM1105 [72’47]

Berio’s Sequenzas are probably his best known body of work and rightly so. They span his entire creative life, the last one for cello being premiered not long before his death and here receiving its first recording. In fact, Black Box’s neat planning gives us the first and last as bookends with a random selection as the other three. They make a nicely contrasting bunch, written at varying stages of his career and forming a decent enough picture of what this amazing cycle is about. Some may miss their favourites - mine happen to be No. III for voice and No. VII for trombone, with its mix of pyrotechnics and theatrical buffoonery.

Die-hard Berio fans will probably have the rest anyway, courtesy of Boulez’s Ensemble InterContemporain, a great bargain on three mid-price DG discs, though it does, of course, stop at what was in 1995 the last one, No.XIII for accordion. There is also a smattering throughout the catalogue of individual Sequenzas performed by their dedicatees (such as Cathy Berberian’s famous and inimitable No. III) or famous ‘star’ soloists, such as Heinz Holliger in No. VII for oboe. Whatever the case, Black Box’s selection is very enjoyable and should make a good entry point for people new to this repertoire.

There’s no doubting the quality of the playing on offer here, either. Berio’s whole point with these works was to embrace virtuosity, to exploit the full potential of each instrument and, where he felt it was necessary, to invent new ways of pushing the barriers even further. As the timings show, these are no mere miniatures – No. XII for bassoon is nearly 20 minutes long – and the listener is best prepared by expecting the unexpected. The technical ability on display here is awesome, with the players of the specialist avant-garde group Ex Novo revelling in Berio’s fiendish demands. I particularly liked the way pianist Aldo Orvieto discovers a post-Schoenbergian expressionism in what is often played as a dense thicket of multiple tonalities. The violin solo is also breathtaking in its scale, justifiable linking it back to the great Bach Chaconne. The cello solo, written for the amazing abilities of Rohan de Saram, shows Berio characteristically exploiting the folk-like percusssive potential of the instrument, with the soloist often striking the wooden body of the cello to evoke the Kandayan drum.

Rather than give us more Sequenzas, the players offer a further group of contrasting pieces, from the early serialism of Due Pezzi to the hauntingly evocative Lied for clarinet, and they simply underline the importance and influence of the Italian master.

The recording quality has to be good in this music, and it’s fair to say Black Box’s audio engineering is state-of-the-art; indeed, if you close your eyes the players are there in the room with you, shuffling, breathing and all. Well worth acquiring if you don’t know the Sequenzas, though be prepared to get hooked and end up wanting the rest.

Tony Haywood




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