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CD: Crotchet


Luca FRANCESCONI (b. 1956)
Etymo (1994) [25:23]
Da Capo (1985/6) [14:20]
A fuoco (1995) [14:41]
Animus (1995) [14:44]
Barbara Hannigan (soprano)(Etymo); Pablo Márquez (guitar) (A fuoco); Benny Sluchin (trombone)(Animus); IRCAM (Etymo, Animus); Ensemble Intercontemporain/Susanna Mälkki
rec. Espace de Projection, IRCAM, Paris, 21 December 2006 (Etymo), 10-11 September 2007 (Da Capo, A fuoco) and 25 January 2007 (Animus)
KAIROS 0012712KAI [69:15]
Experience Classicsonline

Luca Francesconi is one of the most prominent Italian composer of his generation with a substantial and varied output to his credit. The release under review provides a good idea of his output although all the works recorded here are already some ten or twenty years old.
Da Capo (1986) for small ensemble is the earliest work here and is probably one of Francesconi’s best-known and most popular. It is not difficult to understand why. It is a brilliantly scored, colourful piece full of nice instrumental touches and lively rhythms, although it opens and ends in a rather subdued manner.
The other works were all composed at about the same time: between 1994 and 1995. They, too, display a considerable variety of means and moods. Etymo is the most substantial both in length and in content. The title, Etymo (as in etymology) is about the search for the origin and development of language. It sets texts from various poems from Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal for soprano, large ensemble and electronics. The final words are drawn from Baudelaire’s Carnets intimes. The piece opens with an electronic drone of indeterminate sounds giving way to a brief outburst from the ensemble. This precedes the soprano’s first entry suggesting chaos, out of which words will eventually emerge, first as mere phonemes and later as intelligible language at the soprano’s first words Dites, qu’avez-vous vu? (“Say, what have you seen?”). From then on, the song will unfold in a big arch, This comprises a succession of contrasted episodes mostly characterised by an often dangerously exposed soprano part and vivid instrumental colours. At times these are enhanced by electronics. At times, too, song turns into plain speech, but song prevails. The final words from Baudelaire’s Carnets intimes are neutrally spoken over soft electronic shimmering.
A fuoco (1995) is the fourth part of a large-scale cycle Studio sulla memoria (“Study on Memory”) consisting of Richiami II (1989-92), Memoria (1990), Riti neutrali (1991) and A fuoco (1995). The composer has an anecdote concerning this work for guitar and ensemble. In 1982, while studying with Berio in Tanglewood, Francesconi showed him a piece for guitar and ensemble that he was just writing. Berio pointed to a short fragment remarking that “it’s not bad at all”. Francesconi discarded that early work, but for that very fragment which he retained and reworked thirteen years later in A fuoco “in the hope of penetrating its secret and perhaps making a complete piece of it … and, when all was said and done, rid myself of it”. A fuoco again unfolds in a series of contrasted episodes by turns dreamy, meditative and aggressive, the whole expressed in vivid instrumental colours and rhythms.
I was a bit unsure about the last work Animus for trombone and electronics; but I must now admit that I find this a fairly fascinating, if a tad too long work. I am still not quite sure whether I like it. This piece is not unlike Etymo in that it, too, develops from raw breathing noises that will later metamorphose into sounds. When listening to this rather breath-taking - in both meanings of the words - piece one finds it hard to believe that there is just one trombone player at work. He is aided by brilliantly handled electronics. The piece certainly sounds terrific when heard as SACD.  The climaxes are truly shattering, even when heard on simple stereo equipment. This work is a very fine example of Francesconi’s masterly use of electronics with live instruments. The same applies to Etymo, in which electronics considerably enlarge the instruments’ expressive range and colour. It is through these means that a remarkable intensity of expression is achieved and this goal remains Francesconi’s main concern. His music is certainly complex and quite demanding but it remains first and foremost strongly expressive and often quite beautiful.
I doubt that these performances will ever be bettered. All concerned play and sing with such superb technique and commitment that one forgets about all the complexities of the music and is just carried away by the music’s expressive strength. This is a very fine release indeed that may be safely recommended to anyone interested in this most endearing composer’s music. This is strong stuff for sure but ultimately quite rewarding.
Hubert Culot


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