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.
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
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.
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.