LABELS: Col legno Collage
WORKS: Due espressioni; Post-Prae-Ludium; Fragmente – Stille, an Diotima; A Carlo Scarpa, architetto, ai suoi infiniti possibili
PERFORMER: Giancarlo Schiaffini (tuba); Moscow String Quartet, SWF SO/Hans Rosbaud, Michael Gielen
CATALOGUE NO: WWE 1CD 20505 ADD mono/stereo Reissue (1953-90)
This intriguing mixture of live and studio performances has been pieced together from the archives of European radio stations, though the bulk of the material here, courtesy of South-West German Radio, derives from the long-standing contemporary music festivals in Donaueschingen and Darmstadt. They provide very worthwhile introductions to the composers concerned and all the discs contain works not otherwise available. Some of the performances are significant historic documents in themselves, such as the tapes of the world premieres of Luigi Nono’s Due espressioni in 1953 and Iannis Xenakis’s Metastaseis in 1953, both recorded (rather murkily) at Donaueschingen in an era when the postwar avant-garde was at its most polemical and prescriptive, and when every new score was scrutinised for its doctrinal significance.
The selection of the works is sometimes rather arbitrary. The very early Due espressioni, for instance, is coupled with works from Nono’s elusive final phase, which began in 1980 with the astonishing string quartet Fragmente – Stille (in a decent but not earth-shattering performance here), though both the orchestral A Carlo Scarpa and the tuba and electronics Post-Prae-Ludium are valuable additions to the catalogue, while alongside Metastaseis there are Xenakis pieces from the Seventies (Charisma, N’Shima and the tremendously visceral Jonchaies), Eighties (Ata) and Nineties (Ioolkos). But the three scores by Mauricio Kagel, studio recordings from 1991, are very much of a piece, major orchestral works from the end of the Eighties which show all of his deftness, melodic quirkiness and wonderfully questioning attitude to tradition. The Bruno Maderna disc, too, provides an important boost to the reputation of a composer who since his death in 1973 has rather been overshadowed by his surviving contemporaries; both Ausstrahlung, with its ancient Persian texts, and the First Oboe Concerto are enduringly beautiful achievements. An invaluable series, then, whose only drawback is the quality of the booklet notes, which is very low indeed. Andrew Clements