is an extremely important recording in many ways. It is the
most complete recording of the Sequenzas and nine connected
pieces for solo instruments. The famous recording with soloists
from Ensemble InterContemporain on DG, will remain important,
but it was made in 1998, before some of the pieces on this
set were even written. For example, we have here the first
recordings of the legendary Sequenzas for cello. They are
performed by Rohan de Saram, to whom they were dedicated.
Berio conferred with de Saram as he wrote, sounding out his
ideas with the cellist to see how far the technical process
could meet the musical imagination. I heard de Saram play Sequenza
XIV in 2002, very shortly after it was written, and was
overwhelmed. I’ve been waiting for this recording ever since!
serious Berio admirer will be getting this 4 CD set sooner
or later. It’s only a matter of time. The main reason for
reviewing it is to alert people of its existence, and to
assure anyone in any doubt, that it is worth every penny.
This set may initially be expensive, but is value for money
in the longer term, because the performances here are superb,
and the new pieces are an essential part of the repertoire.
this set includes spoken performances of Sanguinetti’s poems
before each piece as was Sequenza performance practice. The
DG set has them printed in the booklet, but that’s not the
same thing. Far from interrupting the music, the short aphorisms
enhance overall atmosphere, for Sanguinetti and Berio were
artistic twins, fertilising each others work. Sequenzas can,
and are performed as stand-alones for obvious reasons, but
on a recording when they are played together, the recitation
acts as a connecting thread. All the performances here were
recorded separately, as were those in the Ensemble InterContemporain
set, and even in different countries. The concept fits in
well with Berio’s panoramic, international world-view.
another reason why this set will be the one to get is the
quality of the performances. These are outstanding, and even
as stand-alones would be reason enough to seek out. For example, Sequenza
V for trombone is played by Stuart Dempster, who commissioned
and premiered it. It’s built on the concept of the word “Why?”.
The trombonist sings, speaks and plays, while making his
trombone ”speak”, stretching its technical boundaries, making
it sound almost human.
VIII, there’s another outstanding performance, by Irvine
Arditti. Berio referred to it as a homage to a Bach chaconne,
and Sanguinetti wrote “for you I have multiplied my voices”.
Arditti’s performance is breathtaking, as he navigates
the complex patterns with extreme speed and precision.
I’ve been listening to this on “repeat”, marvelling at
its imaginative vibrancy. It wouldn’t be fair to expect
all performances to be in Arditti’s league, but the other
pieces on the second disc are also extremely well played.
Not long ago I heard Markus Stockhausen perform Sequenza
X in live recital, watching how he achieved the resonances
by playing into the piano, making it vibrate without being
touched. That doesn’t translate nearly as well in recording.
Here, Foreman has more gravitas.
de Saram’s Sequenzas XIVa and XIVb are the
reason I held out so long for this recording, and have no
regrets whatsoever about waiting. De Saram is integrally
connected to these pieces and premiered all versions as they
developed. This makes for fluidity and spontaneity – de Saram
puts personality into what he plays. The use of cello as
percussion owes much to his youth, when he played drums in
Kandy, which naturally fascinated a mind like Berio’s. On
the fourth disc, there are two more pieces by de Saram, Les
mots sont allés. and Chanson pour Pierre Boulez. Les
mots was written as a tribute to Paul Sacher and premiered
by Rostropovich. Chanson may be a miniature, but packs
many striking ideas into a short span of time. This is its
first recording, made as recently as April 2006.
there’s Sequenza XIVb for contrabass. It wasn’t complete
at the time of the composer’s death but was put together
by Stefano Scodanibbio, who performs it here. Berio was the
kind of man who welcomed the input of other artists, and
appreciated transcriptions and variations. This sequenza
extends the repertoire, and will, I hope, become a regular
in the repertoire.
so much in this set, that anyone interested in Berio literally “needs” it.
Mode has created a quality product, well designed, well recorded
and musically intelligent. I didn’t buy the budget Naxos
set (see review) which was released at about the same time,
because I knew this set was in the pipeline. The Ensemble
performances on the DG set are classic. Direct comparison
of performances between the DG and Mode sets is meaningless:
both are of such high quality that you do need both. But
go for the Mode first, if you don’t already have the DG set,
partly because it’s complete, and has so many outstanding
performances and firsts. You won’t know the Sequenzas properly
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