Berio: Rendering; Stanze

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COMPOSERS: Berio
LABELS: ODE 1059-2
ALBUM TITLE: Rendering; Stanze
WORKS: Rendering; Stanze
PERFORMER: Dietrich Henschel (baritone); French Army Chorus; Orchestre de Paris/Christoph Eschenbach
CATALOGUE NO: Ondine
Rendering, Luciano Berio’s 1989 ‘completion’ of Schubert’s sketches for a Tenth Symphony, has become one of his most frequently recorded works. Christoph Eschenbach’s live version appears just a month after Riccardo Chailly’s (to whom Rendering is dedicated) joined three earlier recordings (including another from Eschenbach, and one conducted by Berio himself). It’s easy to see why the piece is so popular, for the way Berio embeds the Schubert fragments in a matrix of his own music creates all kinds of teasing allusions and connections as he flips between Schubert’s melodies and his own tinkling washes of sound and mazy continuums. However, Eschenbach’s account lacks quite the level of definition and orchestral detail that makes the Chailly so compelling.

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But the novelty on the Ondine disc is the recording, taken from the premiere in January 2004, of Berio’s final work, completed just a few weeks before his death the previous May. Stanze is a song cycle to texts by five different poets – Paul Celan, Giorgi Caproni, Edoardo Sanguineti, Alfred Brendel and Dan Pagis. All of them are permeated by ideas of death, what Berio calls that ‘unmentionable place’. The result is as much a conscious leave-taking as Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde; the baritone soloist’s matter-of-fact delivery is echoed and reinforced by a male chorus, while around them Berio creates his familiar iridescent orchestral webs. It’s bleakly beautiful, and Eschenbach and his soloist Dietrich Henschel catch the tone perfectly. Andrew Clements