However prominent as conductor, advocate and theorist the Italian
Bruno Maderna was, his position as a composer remains somewhat
enigmatic. He was born in 1920 and died far too young at the
age of 53. Maderna tirelessly promoted the works of his younger
contemporaries - especially Nono and Berio - in particular and
more generally the very idea of an avant-garde. Yet Maderna's
own music remains at times confounding for its marriage of an
apparent appeal to rebelliousness and a somewhat conventional
That is certainly the case with the four works and arrangements
on this excellent new CD. The quality of the music-making, of
the sound and of the informative - if brief - notes that come
with it make this a CD to be sought out. There are two other
discs currently available which contain Quadrivium; only
one with the concerto for two pianos. Maderna's earlier piano
concerto from 1942 and its arrangement for two pianos are receiving
their first recordings here. They receive exceptionally compelling,
sensitive and sympathetic performances. This recording is taken
from the first performance after the 'rediscovery' of the 1942
concerto at an event in Verona on 10 October 2009.
The defining characteristic of all four works is without doubt
a gentle, tuneful and purposeful percussiveness. This is not
the same as beat. Still less is it merely an interest in percussion
instruments for their own sake on Maderna's part. That said,
there are long and frequent passages in Quadrivium which
almost dwell on the beauty of such pitched and unpitched sounds.
Rather, Maderna translates the almost always latent energy represented
by rhythm and momentum into a fully-controlled and never over-exploited
'pull' between unfolding and at times almost serendipitous or
indeterminate melody. The inevitability of the strike to attain
Each of the piano soloists and the orchestra in Quadrivium
clearly understand exactly why and how such balance, blend,
and poise are necessary, what they mean, and how to achieve
them. The performances are lively and spirited and hold the
attention from first to last.
Quadrivium is almost as long as the three piano pieces
together. It dates from 1969 and is built - not surprisingly,
given its title - on the number four: four percussionists and
four orchestral groups. As with the piano pieces, the writing
is symphonic and brilliant in character. The brilliance is the
preserve of both soloists and the great presence which the orchestra
has. 'Presence' because Maderna's music often exposes its substance
obliquely as well as deliberately and defiantly. In this case
there's an overt external - though again, oblique - reference
to the four liberal arts: arithmetic, algebra, music and astronomy.
More transparently, four is seen as a magic number in wider
terms - four points of the compass, four seasons. But neither
the music as composed nor the playing, which is of a very high
standard, needs any 'excuse'. Maderna's great achievement in
Quadrivium is to suggest realities, to offer ways in
which they can interact and in which intuition and compositional
imagination inform and are informed by technical rigour. Again,
the way in which the Orchestra della Fondazione 'Arena di Verona'
translates this potentially elusive balance into a plausible
and convincing performance is very pleasing. Similarly the balance
and active interaction between dynamics has been accomplished
very well - even to the extent of translating Maderna's counter-posing
of silence and sound. Credit must also go to conductor Carlo
Miotto for this - and the other successful accounts on the CD.
It's all the more remarkable that Maderna is known to have
reworked and revised particularly the Concerto for two pianos
and instruments to the extent he did. This dates from the
immediate post-war period. It still receives minimal exposure
despite being a beautiful work. It's just as remarkable that
the result is as seamless as it is. It is honoured as such,
as wholly and successfully integrated by Gruppo 40.6. This group
is so named because 40.6 is the number of kilometres between
Mantua and Verona, from which the relatively recently-formed
five person group comes and in which they perform new music.
All in all this CD is something of a small fillip for twentieth
century music in general and that of Maderna in particular.
The standard of playing can only serve to give impetus to the
reinstatement of Maderna's reputation, and appreciation of his
unusual but significant music.
see also review by Rob