Notes and Editorial Reviews
An essential piece of our recent musical history.
Coro is one of the great monuments that appear every few years in Berio’s output, a sort of vast, uncategorizable oratorio/song cycle (and of course now, being a critic, I’ll try to describe it). Written in 1975–76 on commission from the West German radio, it sets a series of folk-song texts in alternation with a poem by Pablo Neruda (in fact a patchwork of fragments from Residencia en la tierra). The chorus consists of 40 singers who are seated on stage, each paired with an instrument (there is an additional “continuo” quartet of instruments, bringing their total to 44). The Neruda, the individual poetic voice, is intoned by the chorus as a whole. The folk songs, the
product of a collective consciousness, are sung by individuals and small groups of vocalists in chamber settings. The whole thing moves continuously from one number to another, blending with a dream-like fluidity.
This is another in DG’s admirable “Echo 20/21” series, which is re-releasing important works of the last late century. I bought the LP when it came out in 1980, and I remember being seriously disappointed. Now I can barely understand why; I guess I was just an ignorant kid. More seriously, I believe that I had completely unrealistic expectations of the work, derived from my love of the composer’s 1968 Sinfonia, which still sounds like one of the great masterpieces of the second half of the 20th century, the clarion call of both revolution and postmodernism. Coro is not as great a piece, but now I realize, what could be? Judged on its own terms, it is a magnificent achievement. The blend of voices and instruments creates an original sound that is simultaneously “natural,” in large part because Berio, more than almost any composer of his generation, remained deeply committed to harmony as an essential base for all music-making. The tutti sections of the piece are thrilling (the first entrance of the brass and voices after the initial folk song, which is almost a Lieder with its soprano and piano, is hair-raising). The folk songs are consistently inventive, engaging, and fresh. There’s no doubt that the ghost in the machine here is Stravinsky, but Berio is a strong enough personality to have absorbed his ancestor’s influence without being overwhelmed.
I’m very glad I wasn’t writing this review a couple of decades ago. Yes, not everything in the music is perfectly engaging. By this point in his career, Berio had begun to internalize a number of technical devices whose effect could bespeak a certain glibness (a particular take on heterophony, a slightly rambling sense of structure, a belief that the authenticity of folk sources could justify compositional choices that might have still used refining). The ending isn’t as overwhelming as it should be, when the Neruda is finally presented in full. But that doesn’t take away from the overall strength and power of the composer’s vision and his wonderfully fertile ear. In retrospect, this is precisely the sort of choral work the world today needs, instead of the inflated neo-Edwardian oratorios that nowadays pass for profound statement. An essential piece of our recent musical history.
-- Robert Carl, FANFARE [3/2003]
Works on This Recording
Coro by Luciano Berio
Cologne West German Radio Chorus,
Cologne West German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1976/1977; Italy
Date of Recording: 10/1979
Venue: Wallrafplatz Concert Hall, Cologne
Length: 56 Minutes 55 Secs.
Notes: This selection is sung in English, French, German, Hebrew, Italian and Spanish.
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