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Stefano GERVASONI (b. 1962)
Muro di Canti
Altra voce. Omaggio a Robert Schumann, for voice, piano and live electronics (2015/17) [18:59]
Fu verso o forse fu inverno; sei liriche di Lorenzo Calogero, for voice, piano and live electronics (2016) [19:06]
Muro di canti (sound installation) (2016) [23:53]
Aldo Orvieto (piano), Monica Bacelli (mezzo-soprano), Alvise Vidolin (live electronics and sound direction), Marco Luni (computer music design)
rec. September 2017, May 2018 and April 2020, Auditorium ‘Cesare Pollini’, Padova, Italy
Original German and Italian texts included without translation
KAIROS 0015082KAI [62:07]

The 2020/2021 transfer window has obviously been a busy time for Kairos FC; this is the third disc of Italian music I have received this month and it marks the debut monograph of Stefano Gervasoni, another exciting marquee signing for the Paladino-owned Vienna outfit. A steady stream of releases devoted to the Bergamo-born Nono protégé have emerged over the last decade on labels such as Aeon, Stradivarius and Winter & Winter (the wry Le Pré, which also somewhat inevitably features the indefatigable pianist Aldo Orvieto is reviewed here). The new release concentrates exclusively on Gervasoni’s electroacoustic work and includes a trilogy of substantial canvasses two of which to some degree take advantage of the versatile voice of renowned mezzo Monica Bacelli.

Altra voce is a Schumann homage, a cycle of five numbers in which Gervasoni leads the listener on a kind of nocturnal ramble through the gloaming of a handful of the German composer’s pieces (drawn from Opp 85, 88, 82 and 133) as he attempts to give life and form to those ‘inner voices’ that inhabited Schumann’s work, life and death. The baby steps of resonant piano that launch the reworking of a children’s piece from Op 85 (Luce ignota della sera) trip upon phantasmagorical distortions which are grave and sad, and this initial panel just seems to cave in at its end. The part-synthetic ghost voice is even more overt in Sirenenstimme (contrived around the third number from Fantasiestücke, Op 88), whereby it’s accompanied not just by Orvieto’s piano but mysterious creakings and tappings from the other side – this segues via the offices of what seem like old radio broadcast crackles into Monica Bacelli’s vocal transmission of a couple of Waldszenen; this panel is particularly rich in tintinnabuli and Nono-esque voices off. This panel seems to be the pivot in the cycle, whereby the listener walks straight through the mirror and disentangling reality from dream, or past from present becomes either impossible or irrelevant depending on one’s emotional perspective. At this point the familiar song of the prophet bird (Waldszenen No 7) is filtered through a subtle synthetic prism before ceding to Alba mentore, a haunting re-imagining of the first piece from what is arguably Schumann’s strangest piano cycle, Gesänge der Frühe Op 133 which is swiftly divested of pure piano sound until all that remains is a synthetically projected shroud. Alba mentore quite literally completes the dusk-till-dawn nature of this nocturnal voyage. Altra voce is heady and compelling fare, by turn creepy, playful and affecting.

One is somewhat hampered by the lack of an English translation for the six harrowing poems of Lorenzo Calogero set by Gervasoni in his song cycle with electronics Fu verso o forse fu inverno (It was about, or maybe it was Winter). The brief biography of the poet shared by Laurent Feneyrou in his extensive booklet note suggests a profoundly tortured soul, and the snippets of translation that are included confirm as much. Gervasoni’s musical language here is more obviously contemporary – cells of piano melody, speech and whispering and the sounds of rainfall and darkness combine to contribute to a heady, confused ambience. Some of Bacelli’s vocal inflections in the second number unexpectedly hint at the blues. As it is the spectral electronic treatments of the voice are not so unique to this composer for the listener not to pick up on the clear influence of his teacher (Nono), but they are so convincingly and coherently absorbed into the texture of the whole to render such an observation merely peripheral. The last song, E io ti porgo una lettera strikes me as being especially interesting, with episodes at its centre and conclusion which seem both deeply unnerving and incontrovertibly musical. Listening to the entire cycle as a sonic entity I was both impressed and moved but I’m struggling to explain why, as I feel I’m missing a key piece in the jigsaw. Gervasoni’s sonic building blocks certainly add up to something substantial and are absolutely accessible as music, but I suspect the translations would have contributed another layer to my appreciation.

Feneyrou’s note also provides a detailed analysis of the philosophical impulses behind Giacomo Leopardi’s Canto notturno di un pastore errante dell’asia (A wandering Asian shepherd’s nocturnal song), the poem he describes as the cantus firmus of Gervasoni’s sound installation Muro di canti (Wall of Songs), designed as a ‘sonic furrow’ to complement Viale dei canti (The Avenue of Songs), an immersive artwork conceived by Giuseppe Caccavale in 2016 for the Italian Cultural Institute in Paris. This is a classic IRCAM produced collage of voices, sounds and flavours which is sufficiently multi-facetted and colourful for listeners like me to simply experience without worrying too much about texts and subtexts. Apart from the speaking, whispering, declaiming and narrating voices which project the texts within and out of the fabric of the piece, one gets a sense of the ambience and the space, of the light and solitude and air, of the sounds created by the making and shaping of the artwork itself. One cannot help but appreciate the extraordinary musicality of the Italian language in its purest form. There can surely be no set, generalised response to these tastefully processed and skilfully juxtaposed slivers of noise, word and breath. Make of it what you will. I found it undeniably powerful and oddly sobering.

The three works on this absorbing issue complement each other most aptly. Each has been superbly adapted for the purpose of home listening – the Kairos engineers have done Gervasoni proud. Aldo Orvieto is a charismatic and virtuosic guide for the two piano-led works, while Monica Bacelli is completely at one with the composer’s taxing and flexible vocal requirements. If the disc is not without its bracing, challenging moments, they are outnumbered by episodes of haunting beauty and hard-won lyricism. Another three points for the Azzurri, methinks.

Richard Hanlon

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