Customer Review

4.0 out of 5 stars Three superb Nono orchestral works from Michael Gielen's SWR Sinfonieorchester, July 17, 2012
This review is from: Variazioni Canoniche / Carlo Scarpa / Architetto (Audio CD)
This disc is a live recording of the SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg from September 17, 1989 at the SNCF de Birschheim in the Alsace region of France. Michael Gielen leads the SWR, arguably the world's finest orchestra in contemporary repertoire. Gielen was music director from 1986-1999, continuing the legacy of Hans Rosbaud, who was the founding director in 1946. (The orchestra used to be known as the SWF, but the acronym was changed across many of the German radio orchestras so as to be uniform -- SWR Baden-Baden und Freiburg, SWR Stuttgart, WDR Koln, NDR Hamburg.) The sound of the live recording is not bad, but not great.

Variazioni Canoniche (1950 -- 20'07)
for orchestra and chamber ensemble
This is Luigi Nono's Opus 1, and while he was working with Schoenberg's 12-tone method, he used it creatively, not rigidly. Based on the tone row from Schoenberg's "Ode to Napoleon," it sounds more like Webern, like a glittering, revolving prism featuring piano, until punctuated by a loud rattling snare drum. This pattern repeats, and then a third time, followed by a blaring horn fanfare. This leads to an entirely new sound in a passage featuring clarinet and saxophone, and leading to the conclusion. While more full of activity, it is interesting how much of Nono's sparser late works of the 1980s are audible from the beginning in this piece.

A Carlo Scarpa, architetto ai suoi infiniti possibili (1984 -- 9'40)
for orchestra
Beginning in 1980, Nono turned to a distinctive sound of silences and long held tones. His epic electro-acoustic choral work Prometeo is the best-known from those years, but the two orchestral works found here are both very impressive. Written to commemorate his friend, the architect Carlo Scarpa, the piece sounds to me like an open spiral staircase, repeating a slow, stately passage several times, punctuated by tuttis like thunder and lightning in the distance. It is harmonically stripped down to only the two notes of C and E-flat, with microtonal variations.

No Hay Caminos, Hay Que Caminar... Andrei Tarkovskij (1987 -- 24'00)
for seven instrumental groups
Another dedication, this one to the Russian filmmaker, this piece extends a similar sound to twice the length. This is not music that reaches out to the listener. Rather, the listener must concentrate to hear the slow, small changes taking place, periodically punctuated by loud tutti outbursts. Of course PROMETEO is the ultimate expression of this aesthetic.

The spatial separation of the seven groups around the audience is of course lost, and would only be realized in a live performance. I find this to be a very effective late Nono piece, with a sparse, narrow band of sound centered on G. Sometimes spreading out to six octaves in vast tuttis, the music is intriguing and suspenseful, and encourages the close listening Nono sought in his low-volume epics of the Eighties. Josef Hausler's liner notes for the Kairos recording include the following fascinating insight: "The choice of the note G -- and here I take up an idea from the conductor Michael Gielen -- is perhaps secretly reflecting a connection of ideas deeply significant for Nono. The note G is called "sol" in Italian. Yet "il sol" is the sun. When understood as a byword for light, progress, freedom, revolution, this is perhaps a coded reference for ethical beliefs to which Nono held throughout his life..."

Nono composed three works all based on the same Spanish phrase: "Wayfarer, there is no path. Yet you must walk." They have all been recorded together on a 2008 Kairos disc. This live performance by the SWR is more dynamic and compelling than that studio recording of the WDR. Unfortunately it is marred by some severe coughing, and that is one reason I only give the disc four stars.

Nono died on May 8, 1990, between the recording of this concert and its release on disc in 1993. Born in 1924, he died young by modern standards. The music of his "late period" continues to exercise strong influence over neumusik in Europe, especially Germany and Austria.

This disc is well worth hearing for anyone interested in his music.

(verified purchase from a large brick-and-mortar bookstore)
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