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Luciano BERIO (1925-2003)
Chemins I (su Sequenza II) for harp and orchestra (1965) [14:55]
Chemins IIb for orchestra (1970) [10:24]
Concerto for two pianos and orchestra (1972/3) [25:38]
Formazioni for orchestra (1986) [19:42]
Andreas Grau (piano); Götz Schumacher (piano)
Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra/Martyn Brabbins (Chemins); Bertrand de Billy (Concerto); Stefan Asbury (Formazioni)
rec. Vienna Musikverein, 7 November 2007 (Chemins); Vienna Konzerthaus, 15 November 2007 (rest)
COL LEGNO WWE1CD20281 [70:41]


Experience Classicsonline

Luciano Berio is almost certainly known to the wider public for his ground-breaking 1968 orchestral phantasmagoria Sinfonia, and for the equally influential set of Sequenzas. The latter occupied him most of his creative life and push the boundaries of what is possible on the chosen solo instruments. He went on to develop ideas related to the Sequenzas in a series entitled Chemins. These were basically orchestral progressions, the title indicating proliferating ‘paths’ from the original line of the solo piece. If there is any discernible link between the four pieces on this disc, it is that very idea of a soloist - or soloistic groups - interacting with, or pitted against, the orchestra.

Chemins I takes the Sequenza II for solo harp and weaves an intricate web of orchestral texture around the original line. Sometimes the solo line remains exact; at others it is slightly varied to ‘play’ or weave its lines within the orchestral tapestry. I don’t really think it adds a great deal to the original harp Sequenza in terms of the boundaries of the instrument, but is very imaginatively scored and stands well as modernist tone poem.

Chemins IIb appears to be a further adaptation of Chemins II - which itself takes the Sequenza for solo viola (VI) as its starting point but drops the idea of the soloist as such. It instead uses a larger orchestra and rather thicker, denser textures to play out melodic ideas related to the original viola part, as at 2:49. It’s a tricky piece to get under the skin of, but is here given a flamboyant, persuasive performance.

The Concerto for two pianos is a glorious work, the most substantial on the disc and written in response to a commission from the New York Philharmonic. Berio has written of this most difficult of forms, "the relationship between soloist and orchestra is a problem that must ever be solved anew and the word ‘concerto’ can only ever be taken as a metaphor".

In fact he seeks to exploit a ‘fluid’, or mobile relationship, where the pianos sometimes assume the role of accompanists to members of the orchestra. It is perhaps easier to grasp than the Chemins, simply because the structure is clearer, with use of Stravinskian ostinati in places (try 7:24), but also fleeting glimpses of a G-centred tonality. Bruno Canino and Antonio Ballista were associated with the work from the start, but I doubt they were ever more committed than the Grau/ Schumacher duo here, who are passionate advocates and technically superb.

The last work on the disc, Formazioni, was written for Chailly and the Concertgebouw and premiered by them in 1987. It’s a superb work that also subverts the customary relationship between orchestral ‘families’. Here, brass instruments are given a position of prominence, divided into two groups and seated either side of the orchestra on raised platforms, exchanging bold musical phrases antiphonally across the main orchestral body. Woodwind are also divided, one group occupying the leader’s position, another seated at the back to the conductor’s right, and further wind instruments are seated in the centre surrounded by strings. Berio plays with other spatial redistributions that are almost strategic, suggesting connotations of the title Formazioni, or ‘Formations’, but these are always intended clearly to bring out structural elements of the work. It’s a beautiful, quasi-Impressionistic concerto for orchestra. It is very well played here but not quite in the league of Chailly’s superb Decca recording, which is coupled with Sinfonia and Folk Songs - something of a Berio classic.

I must point out at this stage that all the above information was gleaned from my own research and reading, as the liner note to this Col Legno release are made up of Joyce-like stream-of-consciousness poetic ramblings by the composer. These may be valuable to some but not in the least enlightening on the structure or background to the works. Well, you can’t have everything, I guess, and this disc is definitely valuable for the music, which is generally very well played and recorded from live concerts.

Tony Haywood


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