Edward Gardner continues to expand his masterful catalogue of contemporary
music recordings. This superb programme reveals an aspect of
Luciano Berio’s creative output which may prove a pleasant surprise
to many who have already tested his musical waters and withdrawn
their toe with a mild ‘eek!’ of modern music mortification.
Berio made numerous arrangements, orchestrations and transcriptions,
at times leaving the original relatively intact, in certain
instances using his own idiom to enrich or, in the case of Rendering,
complete a score left unfinished by its original composer. This
first piece in the programme uses sketches left by Schubert
of a Symphony in D major, D 936A. The Schubert moments are filled
with remarkable features – it’s ‘new’ Schubert, but I would
imagine few people identifying it as such on a blind hearing.
There’s a moment right at the start which sounds like Nielsen,
and the slow second movement seems to anticipate Mahler. Berio’s
own contributions are entirely magical, creating wonderful soundscapes
of ethereal beauty, using all kinds of tuned percussion and
other effects. The boundaries between the new and the ‘old’
are well defined, but also inhabit similar kinds of strange
other-worldliness. Berio uses and quotes Schubert, but is also
unafraid to step beyond into dreams and fantasy which are at
times unsettling, but always deeply inspiring.
Brahms’ Clarinet Sonata Op. 120 No. 1 is given a fairly
straightforward orchestral arrangement, with a light-toned accompaniment
of strings and winds, three horns, two trumpets and timpani.
Berio adds extra bars to the opening of the first and second
movements, but in such a way that you are unlikely to notice
unless you know the original well. This is an intensely sensitive
version, both in conception and performance – the mellow tone
and expressive phrasing of Michael Collins’ clarinet peerlessly
matched to the orchestra’s gentle palette of colour and textures.
The Six Early Songs by Gustav Mahler is given an appropriately
Mahler-sized orchestra by Berio, with full brass, triple woodwinds,
percussion, harp and celesta to add sparkle to the massed strings.
Even with these large forces there is a delicacy of touch which
makes these songs wonderfully attractive. Mahler himself was
in a state of amorous euphoria for at least part of the time
while writing these songs. The folk music influences and generally
uplifting character of the music makes for a genuinely marvellous
listening experience. Berio’s imaginative orchestration in,
for instance, the rising melodic motif in the second of the
songs, Ich ging mit Lust durch einen grünen Wald, goes
with chiming sustained notes in the winds early in the song.
This stands as a kind of musical fingerprint representative
of the superlative quality of the whole. It’s almost certainly
not what Mahler would have done, but I bet he would have liked
it. Roderick Williams’ baritone is very well suited to these
songs, and he enunciates the texts with clarity and negotiates
Mahler’s open melodic shapes with natural and unmannered expressiveness.
All song texts are printed in the booklet in German, English
Both Rendering and the Sonata Op. 120 No. 1
appear on an excellent re-issue collection from Italian Decca
conducted with verve by Riccardo Chailly. The refinement which
Gardner and the Bergen Philharmonic bring to Rendering
is truly and hauntingly magnificent, but also adds a kind of
Disney gloss which you may or may not prefer to Chailly’s Italian
forces. Michael Collins’ Brahms would be my version of choice,
Fausto Ghiazzi’s solo also being very good, but with a few moments
of mildly stressed intonation in the lower register, and with
a more lumpy feel to the accompaniment. Berio fans will want
this for the other pieces in the programme, but if you are happy
with the selection on this Chandos release then the performances
and recording fill the bill to perfection.
If you are scared of Berio, please re-adjust your trepidations
with this disc. You will be missing a great deal if you allow
prejudice to put you off. The character of the original composers
is preserved and enhanced by Berio’s treatments of their scores,
and the extended Schubert will give you the kind of thrills,
chills and bewitchment you won’t find in many other recordings.
Chandos’s 5.0 surround and stereo recording is a treat as per
usual, with a marvellous balance between atmosphere and detail,
also presenting soloists and orchestra in pleasantly unified
see review by Nick