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Luigi NONO (1924-1990)
CD 1
No hay caminos, hay que caminar… (1987) for seven orchestral groups [24:21]
“Hay que caminar” sognando (1989) for two violins [26:37]
CD 2
Caminantes… Ayacucho (1986-87) for mezzo-soprano, small and large choir, organ, three orchestral groups and live electronics [34:33]
Irvine Arditti (violin), Roberto Fabbriciani (flute), Graeme Jennings (violin), Susanne Otto (mezzo-soprano)
Solistenchor Freiburg
WDR Rundfunkchor Köln
WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln/Emilio Pomárico
rec. “Hay que caminar” sognando at Studio Stolberger Straße, 6 May 2004, others at Kölner Philharmonie, 4-7 May 2004.
KAIROS 0012512KAI [51:10 + 34:35]

This trio of late works by the Venetian-born Luigi Nono all derive their titles from an inscription which the composer read on the wall of a monastery in Toledo in the mid-1980s. Translated, they contain the meaning “Wayfarer, there is no path. Yet you must walk”, and the works on this pair of discs stand as witness to the significance which their creator must have seen in these words.
The first of these, No hay caminos, hay que caminar…is dedicated to the exiled Russian film director Andrei Tarkovsky, whose film ‘Nostalghia’ has the related theme of a “search for something, which perhaps doesn’t exist.” This search is played out in a spatial field, in which the orchestra is divided into seven groups spaced on all four sides of the concert hall. This can of course only be partially suggested with a stereo presentation, and it would seem that SACD technology might have been created to give such works their fairest representation in a reproducing format. The material for this piece is pared down to a minimum, revolving almost entirely around one note: G. The booklet notes suggest that this not might have a symbolic function, as its Italian name ‘sol’ is close to ‘il sole’, which is the sun – “a byword for light, progress, freedom, revolution, [and] perhaps a coded reference to the ethical beliefs to which Nono held throughout his life.” There are many gaps and silences, and quiet string clusters and microtonal chords characteristic of Nono’s later work. These dynamically detailed and intensely subtle sonic spaces are punctuated by loud, brass and percussion-heavy interruptions – the whole thing having the feel of a grim, miniature musical landscape stretched to a potential infinity – in other words, a path.
The sustained pianissimo chords of the orchestral work recur in “Hay que caminar” sognando for two violins, and the remarkable thing is how close just these two instruments come to emulating those effects as they appear from the orchestra. Those loud, fortissimo interruptions are also a feature of this work, and there is very little dynamic in between the two states. The un-credited booklet notes quite accurately sum up this late style of Nono’s as “sublimated contemplation”, and as the composer’s final completed work it can indeed be seen as a kind of gazing into the unknown, a dream of some kind of utopian future preserved in sound. The journey element is a very actual part of any performance of this work, as the almost 30 minute duration of the piece demands that the music for each player is spread over something like eight music stands. Not only are the performers positioned at a greater than normal distance from each other, but at the end they also have to choose a new piece from two of a total of three parts: “seeking, as one seeks a path.”     
Caminantes… Ayacucho, the words ‘wayfarer’, and the name of a city in southern Peru which stood at the centre of rebellion against the Spanish in the 19th century: the title of the work which occupies the second disc on this set is both symbolic and descriptive. The text is similarly symbolic, and descriptive of a journey from the sea to the stars. Like the other two pieces, this one is a tract of stillness and subtle tonal textures punctuated by bells and percussion, and a bass flute amplified and transformed through live electronics into a tidal super-flute. To my ears, the chiming of the lower bells conjure the earthly concerns of a fog-bound seascape, the upper bells the aspirational starlight. There are whisperings and suggestive sonorities in the instruments, but the voices are almost always dryly inexpressive, declaiming their text through single, sustained notes. The lines which do occur seem almost an accident of conjoined tonalities, rather than any kind of melodic structure. The expression that is produced by the mixture of sounds between voices, treated flute and strings does have a magical, timeless quality however, and the  brass and percussion ‘interruptions’ have all the more dramatic impact as a result.
Aficionados of Luigi Nono’s work will already have some idea of what to expect with these pieces, though I suspect that their full impact will be greater than expected. Those of you who know the 1980 string quartet Framente-Stille, and Diomita can expect an extension and development of the concepts in that all-absorbing and almost motionless world. Like listening to the work of Morton Feldman, one has to divorce oneself from the preconceptions of musical development and timing, and allow the works to inhabit their own space, which is simultaneously intimate and expressive, vast and infinitely isolated. These pieces are presented with a great deal of care, and with usefully informative notes which include illustrations of Nono’s characteristic graphic sketches and scores. It almost goes without saying that the performances are excellent and the recordings equally detailed and satisfyingly dynamic. Like certain kinds of rodeo, these works are not an easy ride, but if you are willing to take up the reins then the rewards can be greater than the challenge.
Dominy Clements                      


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