Berio: Coro; Ekphrasis (Continuo II)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Col legno
WORKS: Coro; Ekphrasis (Continuo II)
PERFORMER: Bavarian Radio Chorus, Frankfurt RSO/Lucas Vis, Luciano Berio
Twenty years separate Coro, Berio’s vast choral and orchestral masterwork of the mid-Seventies, and Ekphrasis, written in 1996. But they both have those instantly recognisable fingerprints of Berio’s beautifully effulgent, harmonically rich, ‘late style’. Ekphrasis is, even by Berio’s standards, a bewitchingly gorgeous piece; listening to it is like watching a skein of embroidered satin unfold. The performance has just the right combination of tonal richness and nervous intensity, and the recording captures every last flicker of orchestral iridescence. Coro is a bigger piece in every way. Over the space of an hour we hear fragments of folk poems from around the world, interspersed with settings of a Neruda poem, all on the eternal topics of work and love. With 40 singers scattered among the orchestra, and a texture that varies from delicate filigree to colossal outbursts of dense harmony, this piece is a recording engineer’s nightmare. But this recording triumphs over the difficulties, as does the performance. My only caveat is that the sections for solo singers, which evoke different folk idioms, needed to be more strongly characterised to offset the dark grandeur of the choral sections. That aside, this is a magnificent performance of a masterpiece of postwar music. Ivan Hewett