WORKS: Sinfonia; Calmo; Quattro versioni originali della Ritirata Notturna di Madrid di L Boccherini
PERFORMER: Virpi Räisänen (mezzo-soprano); Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Hannu Lintu
CATALOGUE NO: ODE 1227-5 (hybrid CD/SACD)
Sinfonia, composed in the late 1960s for Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic, is the piece by which Luciano Berio is best known. The title is meant in the generic sense: the music explores the mythology of the symphony, and its centrepiece is a collage in which the scherzo from Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony flows in and out of focus, while quotations from two centuries of musical history weave their way through its fabric. Many of those quotations are generated by fleeting references in the spoken text, largely drawn from Samuel Beckett, which runs through the movement.
This new recording has the eight voices placed in the same auditory plane as the orchestra, which is exactly as it should be in the second movement – a homage to Martin Luther King in which the sounds of his name are gradually pieced together – but less ideal in the Mahler movement, where it’s important to be able to hear the words. It all sounds a little flat and dour, and it conspicuously lacks the wit that Ward Swingle and his Singers used to bring to the piece.
A very different kind of collage is Berio’s tribute to Boccherini, which has all four versions of the finale of his Nocturnal Street Sounds of Madrid played simultaneously. The result still sounds like Boccherini, but filtered through Berio’s consciousness. More substantial is Calmo, written in memory of Berio’s friend and colleague Bruno Maderna. It’s beautifully sung by Virpi Räisänen, and, like everything else on the disc, sympathetically conducted by Hannu Lintu.