- Performer: Luciano Berio, Dennis Russell Davies, Kim Kashkashian
- Audio CD (January 29, 2002)
- SPARS Code: DDD
- Number of Discs: 1
- Format: Import
- Label: Imports
- ASIN: B00005ND3I
- Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #333,980 in CDs & Vinyl (See Top 100 in CDs & Vinyl)
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Voci seems an appropriate title for a disc about the composer's personal responses to Sicilian folk music. There are three pieces on this album--the first, the aforementioned Voci, is scored for viola and full orchestra. Berio manages to successfully combine avant-garde techniques with more traditional harmonic and melodic procedures, so that more tuneful elements stand out. The folk aspects of the music can be discerned sometimes as distant impressions and sometimes almost as transcriptions. The scoring is large and spacious (three percussionists surround two inner ensembles and the violist), but is used sparingly. The piece itself is powerful and raw, helped by Kashkashian's gritty, virtuosic playing. Of the other tracks, Naturale is a closer reflection of Sicilian folk music, but belongs very much to the vein of Voci. All the recordings have a rather "live" element to them, and this helps to draw out the vibrancy of the music. --Dominic Sewell
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Top Customer Reviews
One of the brilliant aspects of this ECM disc is that in between the two Berio pieces are five field recordings of the Sicilian folk songs that are used in those pieces! An irony of "Voci" is that there are no vocals -- the melodies taken from the vocals of the folk songs are woven into the complex composition. The sound quality is superb, and the mesh of Berio's modernism with the folk music is beyond words. It reminds me of the way in which the free jazz of Ornette Coleman linked back to elements of pre-swing jazz, with its polytonal collective improvisation. In a similar way, the rough, bent notes of the folk songs loop and connect with Berio's post-tonality.
Kim Kashkashian is tremendous! Her viola is front and center through both compositions, a stunning showcase for her playing. I hope Berio's modernism will not be a deterrent for anyone who appreciates virtuosic performance -- in fact I hope if you do, you might have your ears opened to something beyond the standard repertoire!
The ECM package goes beyond any high standard you might expect -- a booklet with gorgeous black and white photos of Sicily and a long essay by Jurg Stenzl is included with the jewel case in a box.
This disc is truly a triumph for all involved!
"Voci" for viola and concerto (1984) is a concerto where the sololist continually maintains a cantabile line against sparse orchestral accompaniment. The orchestra, here the Radio Symphonieorchester Wien conducted by Dennis Russell Davies, is divided into two groups, but this doesn't really come through in recording. Upon first hearing the Sicilian folk melodies constantly turned out by the violist, I was struck by how similar they were to North African music. These ever-flowing sinuous, sensual inflections on the viola make for some of Berio's most seductive music. The role of the orchestra, however, seems weak, with so many instruments sitting on stage but no real role in shaping the work.
"Naturale" for viola, percussion and tape (1985-86) inhabits the same soundworld. The viola line is again constant folk melodies. The tape part, however, is powerful as it features recordings of the folk singer Celano. However, the percussionist (here Robyn Schulkowsky) has a very background role, contributing almost nothing. Sure, the percussionist plays a marimba line or bangs a drum a few times, but this part could be left out entirely with no impact on the piece. This ought to have been a simple duet for viola and tape.
Again, while the viola music here is lovely, the weak writing for the violist's partners makes this less essential Berio. After hearing these pieces, I'm usually in a mood to hear one of the composer's pieces of powerful orchestration like the Chemins cycle or "Formazioni".
The Cd is dominated by two pieces, Voci for viola and orchestra and Naturale for viola and percussion and tape. In between the two Berio pieces are field recordings of Sicilian folk songs upon which the works are based. The folk music is arresting, sounding more mideastern than Italian and thus showing Sicily's roots in the Moorish empire. (Sardinian and Corsican music have much the same impact.) The music is highly melismatic, and dominated by microtones and unusual textures.
Just these recordings by themselves are haunting, but what Berio does with them is magnificent! Voci has it's antecedents in the Folk Song "arrangements" that Berio did for Cathy Berberian in the 60's (another of my favorite Berio pieces). But here, Berio completely subsumes the folk elements into his own style. While you can initially hear some of the motives from the folk songs, particularly in the viola part, the orchestra begins a running commentary that eventually transforms the material into something rich and strange. Comparisons are made in the liner notes to Bartok and they are apt comparisons, though the music sounds nothing like the Hungarian master. Rather, like Bartok, Berio completely internalizes his material...so much so that we can't speak of folk song quotations or influence in the music. It is all of a piece.
The same is true for Naturale, which inhabits the same basic world as Voci, albeit with more transparency. The ties to folk music are even stronger in this work, with the taped section consisting of fragments of field recordings. The field recorded material announces the "theme" of each section and is immediately commented on by the viola and percussion and eventually transformed. There are moments of such exquisite beauty in this work, that I nearly cried....something I rarely do with avant-garde music. But Berio transcends his avant-garde roots in this work, making such stylistic distinctions obsolete.
My only wish with this music is that Berio would continue more in this path. Other works of his from the 80s and 90s have left me with that cold feeling again...particuarly Continuum, which was commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra a few years ago, and could have been written by half a dozen contemporary composers. The path of Voci and Naturale is much more interesting and the creative possibilities are endless. Please Mr. Berio, I'd like some more!
PS A great big thanks to austintrain, whose review below interested me enough in the piece that I overcame my Beriophobia and bought it. Boy am I glad I did!