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Nono: Io, Frammento Dal Prometeo, Etc / Andre Richard, Et Al

Release Date: 02/24/2004 
Label:  Col Legno   Catalog #: 20600   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Luigi Nono
Performer:  Petra HoffmannMonika Bair-IvenzCiro ScarponiRoberto Fabbriciani,   ... 
Conductor:  André Richard
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Freiburg Soloists Choir
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Vocal music permeates the catalog of Luigi Nono (1924–1990). Of his 50-odd published works, about 30 involve voices, either live or on tape. Of course, in his early and middle periods, he was often setting texts of highly, even incendiary political import, but even then, the words were broken into syllabic fragments often resulting in the actual words being incomprehensible to the naked ear. Claudio Abbado had good reason for incorporating two speakers reading the original letters Nono drew on for his 1950s masterpiece, Il canto sospeso (“The Silenced [or suppressed] Song”), which sets excerpts from the farewell letters of people executed by the Fascists. Beginning with Das atmende Klarsein (1980–83), all of Nono’s late vocal music—eight Read more works in all—sets texts compiled for him by the Venetian philosopher Massimo Cacciari. Das atmende Klarsein (roughly “breathing the pure air”) was, at one point, intended to be the finale to the “tragedy for listening,” Prometeo. Io, frammento da Prometeo for three sopranos, choir, bass flute, contrabass clarinet, and electronics, the other “study” for Prometeo, served as the trial run for how Prometeo would evolve. The choice of texts and how they are set typifies how drastically Nono’s concepts of music had changed in the few years since his second opera, Al gran sole carico d’amore, had premiered. No longer concerned even with the minimal representational action of his stage works, he reconceived Prometeo as a kind of sonic environment where the performers and the audience would be in constant slow motion relative to one another. For Io, Cacciari assembled excerpts from Prometheus by Aeschylus, in both ancient Greek and Italian translation, telling the story of Io from two different perspectives to which he appended excerpts from Hölderlin’s Schicksalslied in German (“song of fate,” famously set by Brahms, among others). Nono then edited this already fragmentary compilation into what the notes quite accurately describe as excerpts of excerpts, which he in turn set in a manner where only a very few words are comprehensible, even with the text in front of you. In one sense, it could be said that Cacciari’s texts are meditations on a particular subject and Nono’s settings are then abstract meditations on those meditations. Despite its being a setting of the texts that would become the “Isola seconda” of Prometeo (and contrary to the implication of the title), Io is a very substantial work at 70-plus minutes, only a tiny fraction of which was taken over into Prometeo.

Slightly more than half of the work’s nine sections are choral, with and without the various soloists. In fact, a good deal of the music divides the sections of the choir into separate strands that are taken by individual voices so that, in one sense, the work can be considered as being for 15 vocal soloists. The level of abstraction is, of course, increased by the fact that all of Nono’s late choral music, specifically written for the 12 voices of the Solistenchor Freiburg, is further subjected to audio manipulation by electronics, processing the sounds in real time for simultaneous playback. The result is a music extravagant in its rarefied beauty that truly does embody Nono’s idea of himself as a wanderer, searching through an abstracted, alien landscape with no signposts, with no destination in sight. The incidents of the journey rather than its conclusion become the rationale for the music’s existence. The choral music is immensely difficult, making severe demands on the singers’ abilities to sing at the extremes of both their registers and available volumes while maintaining tuning in a largely unaccompanied context. It is also a reflection of Nono’s early study of Renaissance polyphony—Ockeghem set down on the moon perhaps. The three sections involving the soloists are extraordinary in both their sublime if remote beauty and the sheer difficulty of the music. Katia Plaschka, quite accurately described as a high soprano, sings music of stratospheric difficulty accompanied first by the women’s voices and then the two instruments. Her ability to pull her extreme pitches out of what amounts to thin air is nothing short of amazing. The quartet, which sets the Hölderlin excerpts, for two sopranos, bass flute, and contrabass clarinet, is among the most striking of Nono’s creations in an entire career that was devoted to evolving new sounds from conventional instruments and voices. With the addition of the two speakers, this was taken over directly into Prometeo.

Das atmende Klarsein, for chamber choir, bass flute, tape, and live electronics, was Nono’s first stage in reformulating his approach to choral music that would climax in the still unrecorded Caminantes . . . Ayacucho for contralto, bass flute, organ, choir, and orchestra of 1987. Nono humorously described the work before its first performance as “a flute, a choir, and a great deal of doubt.” The texts selected by Cacciari are fragments drawn from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies, in both German and Italian, combined with fragments of ancient Greek poetry set in the original. Nono then severely edited this already fragmentary compilation, which he in turn set, in the four choral sections of the piece, in the same fragmentary manner of his other vocal works. The four flute interludes are more overtly altered by the live electronics. They are a further development of the possibilities embodied in the extended playing techniques Nono used in his famously remote string quartet, Fragmente—Stille, an Diotima (which, incidentally, is also littered with quotations from Hölderlin throughout the score, in effect “setting” the text without a word of it being uttered in performance).

The performances are astonishing in their beauty and precision. Although I am unable to take advantage of the SACD format, in conventional stereo the recordings are astoundingly clear. They are part of a series apparently devoted to recording the music for voices by the performers Nono originally wrote for, and the present performance is even finer than the previous issue of Das atmende Klarsein, also on Col Legno (that recording, just to make things complicated, includes the only available recording of the substantial Con Luigi Dallapiccola for six percussionists and electronics). Io is a recorded premiere, which further makes this an obligatory purchase. Col Legno provides the texts as provided to Nono, but no translations nor, as is the case with the libretto included with EMI’s complete Prometeo, is there any indication in either work which words were actually set by Nono, which were transcribed into the score for the musicians’ edification, and which were simply omitted altogether. That and the peculiarly translated notes are the only blots on what is truly an outstanding issue.

John Story, FANFARE
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Works on This Recording

Io, frammento dal Prometeo by Luigi Nono
Performer:  Petra Hoffmann (Soprano), Monika Bair-Ivenz (Soprano), Ciro Scarponi (Bass Clarinet),
Roberto Fabbriciani (Bass Flute), Katia Plaschka (Soprano)
Conductor:  André Richard
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Freiburg Soloists Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1981; Germany 
Date of Recording: 2001 
Venue:  Collegium Church, Salzburg, Austria 
Language: Italian 
Notes: This performance utilizes live electronics. 
Das atmende Klarsein by Luigi Nono
Performer:  Roberto Fabbriciani (Bass Flute)
Conductor:  André Richard
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Freiburg Soloists Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1980-1981; Italy 
Date of Recording: 2001 
Venue:  Collegium Church, Salzburg, Austria 
Language: German 
Notes: This performance utilizes live electronics and a pre-recorded tape. 

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