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Luigi NONO (1924-1990)
Fragmente – Stille, An Diotima (1980) [38:08]
LaSalle Quartet: Walter Levin (violin); Henry Meyer (violin); Peter Kamnitzer (viola (alto); Lee Fiser (cello). DDD
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 415 513-1 [38:08]

This music won’t immediately appeal to everyone; but, approached with an open mind, it really ought to inspire and please. Nono’s lovely Fragmente – Stille, An Diotima is essentially highly condensed studied, almost ‘minimalist’ - in the sense of being very… fragmented, quiet, pared down - sound painting for strings. It’s not the world of Ligeti’s Atmosphères, nor of some of Schoenberg’s desperate string compositions although it has a quiet reserve in common with each. It’s more spare than the first and marginally less romantic than anything by Schoenberg or Webern. But the impact of Fragmente – Stille, An Diotima in this splendid performance by the LaSalle Quartet will be every bit as great.
It’s a single work commissioned for those players at the 1983 Bonn Beethoven Festival. It is unique in a number of ways: technically, it must be chamber music, but it’s very far from concerning itself with the sonorities and consonant interplay of four stringed instruments. Rather, the quartet plays at times almost as a single instrument, laying sounds on top of one another in Klangfarbenmelodie fashion. What’s more, silence is as important an entity as sound. These facets of the composition alone – yet used unhistrionically in this combination - surely explain what was part of Nono’s revulsion at the ordered and tidy values of the bourgeoisie. How easy for composer and/or player to have fallen into gratuitous, nihilistic effects to convey departure from norms: not a bit of it here. The conception and execution are unself-conscious and very low key. After all, it was Nono’s intention with this piece to "externalize as fully as possible that which has been internalised … that is what matters today". Success all round: the playing achieves such cerebral goals with great musicality so don’t hesitate to buy this recording – although less than 40 minutes’ worth of music, the impact on your mental energy is much greater.
Highly conceptual, Fragmente – Stille, An Diotima is really closer to the abstract embodiment of ideas – but in neither a conventionally figurative way or even by distilling an idée fixe. Fragments of Hölderlin are written on the score and the players are instructed to sing them inwardly – they must never be spoken aloud. Nor are the poet’s words to be taken – according to Nono - as indicating any kind of programme. The autonomy - from narrative and verbalisation - is intended to help the players to arrive at what Hölderlin called a ‘delicate harmony of the inner life’. Hölderlin’s poem, Diotima, (Socrates' teacher) is concerned with time. This piece is as much about the influences of the past - there are fragments, quotations of musical themes by Ockeghem, Beethoven and Verdi here - on an understanding of our place in the present. Presumably it’s those ideas too on which the players dwell as they let Hölderlin’s fragments work on them.
So it’s crucial that the performers – and there are two other recordings in the current catalogue: The Ardittis on Naïve (782172) and a performance orchestrated by Maderna as part of a compilation on Col Legno (20505) - understand and feel this set of correspondences and are able to translate them into their playing. The LaSalle very clearly does. Their playing is both raw and exposed - they’re closely miked - almost playfully lyrical without being maudlin and as tightly directed towards the sound as towards any ‘philosophy’, which is what Nono wanted.
This is hardly music to be listened to casually - which serious music is, though! - although you may be surprised at how easily and quickly you can become familiar with it.

As with all these Arkiv CDs you will receive a boxed, record company-authorised CD-R at a low price, a reproduction of the original cover and back of booklet. The original liner-notes are not included. But this is twentieth century music of distinction played by eminently capable practitioners and of interest and value in all respects.
Mark Sealey


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