This collection of works for unaccompanied voices is bookended by works by singer Cathy Berberian and composer Luciano Berio, who were once married to each other. John Cage's Story is a movement of his percussion quartet Living Room Music, while Young Turtle Asymmetries is by Cage's pupil Jackson Mac Low and Roger Marsh's Not a Soul But Ourselves is set to a text by James Joyce. Usually done solo, Berberian's Stripsody, with its score consisting solely of cartoons, is sung here by a trio and must be heard to be believed.
A-ronne is a marvelously compelling piece of music, and I use the word music with some degree of caution, partly because there are many for whom A-ronne stands for all that is incomprehensible in contemporary music, but also because, as Berio says, this is not a musical composition in the usual sense of the term. The equally striking, but also hauntingly beautiful Cries of London make an ideal coupling. Here Berio recalls the cries used by the Elizabethan madrigalists, as well as alluding to the techniques of medieval music, such as the hoquet and organum which can be heard in the memorable opening 'cry'.
The performances of both works by Swingle II are a brilliant tour de force, and James Mallinson's stunning, almost three-dimensional recording sounds as fresh as the day it was recorded in this transfer to CD. I have no hesitation in recommending this reissue to anyone with open ears and an inquiring mind.
Michael Stewart, Gramophone
Ondine continues its exciting releases focusing on 20th century masterpieces together with conductor Hannu Lintu and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. This release is dedicated to the orchestral works by the pioneer of Italian modernism Luciano Berio. Berio’s 5-movement Sinfonia, is undoubtedly his most well-known work, written for the New York Philharmonic and dedicated to Leonard Bernstein. It has become one of the key works and principle musical manifestations of the 1960s bringing together collage technique and modernism.
After so many benchmark recordings of the music of our time, the members of the Arditti Quartet were bound to give us one day a complete survey of the string quartets of Luciano Berio, the great Commendatore figure who has dominated Italian music since the 1950s. In point of fact, this programme takes in almost the whole career of the composer of Sequenze, from his Quartet no.1 of 1956, still under the influence of serialism, up to the Glosse of 1997 which are, as their title suggests, 'a collection of brief annotations, and at the same time a short dictionary of idiomatic sonic gestures'. In this fully mature work, Berio resolves in magisterial fashion the problem of the search for new instrumental solutions that is characteristic of the fascinating Sincronie (1963-64), an attempt to make the string quartet sound like 'a single homophonic instrument'. The final work in the programme, the Notturno (1993) presents an atmosphere of extreme expressive concentration, in which sound is born of silence (pppp quasi senza suono) and returns there.
Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire and Berio's Folk Songs, classics of the twentieth century repertoire, inhabit entirely different aesthetic spheres, but their pairing is apt; the earthiness of Folk Songs is an ideal foil to Pierrot's strange otherworldliness. Hearing them together is revelatory because the juxtaposition accentuates the strength and individuality of each, and somehow they just seem to fit musically. This recording is also unique in separating the three sections of Pierrot with jazz interludes played by pianist Maria Baptist. They are not conventionally "jazzy" and have an intelligence and complexity reminiscent of Ligeti's Etudes. Konstantia Gourzi, who conceived of this pairing and the jazz interpolations, conducts the ensemble opus21musikplus. The variety and subtlety of tonal and expressive colors (and dialects, too) mezzo-soprano Stella Doufexis brings to the Berio are exactly what the work demands, but it has rarely been heard with such vividness. Doufexis' interpretations are nuanced and psychologically insightful; her performances are among the finest recorded versions of both works. Neos' sound is immaculate, immediate, and intimate. Highly recommended. ―Stephen Eddins, Rovi