Contemporary Italian Music

Epos [UK premiere]
Audiodrome [UK premiere]
Caprices for Solo Violin 1-4
Wanderer [UK premiere]

Mieko Kanno (violin)

BBC Symphony Orchestra
Zsolt Nagy

Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter

Reviewed: 24 September, 2004
Venue: BBC Studio One, Maida Vale, London

I found Ivan Fedele’s Epos most appealing. Its brief movements are essentially contrasting components of a single musical span. At different paces, the music tosses terse, rhythmic statements about – as if instruments were conversing. The ‘Deciso’, ‘Vivo’ and ‘Presto’ movements dealt in phrase-fragments, commanding and abrupt. The ‘Calmo’, ‘Adagio’ and ‘Lontano’ sections brought the music nearer to moments of sustained mood and argument. The music sounds ‘modern’, yet it is in melodic vein. The note intervals are familiar; the writing is contrapuntal. Thus, discord arises mainly though happenstance. Fedele’s forte is brilliant, striking instrumental colour. Time and again, my ears leaped to meet sounds that could only have come from the latter twentieth-century (1985 to be exact) – flute and harp grounded in a determined Berio-like double bass drone, tuba and bassoon in a grave moment of dialogue, for example. The inter-relation between sonority and emotion was seamless.

Fausto Romitelli died this year, aged 41. His Audiodrome purports to explore significant differences between live music conveying a ‘message’ and electronics being the ‘medium’ (which may or may not come to constitute the ‘message’). Here, we are told, ‘medium’ and ‘message’ “converge into an indistinct resolution.” I read the above later; thus my ears heard Audiodrome untutored. Music that suggested the Mediterranean region began in a night of the darkest blue – and never quiet. Rumbles, tensions, shrieks and groans (indeterminate as being electronic or human) punctuated the stillness – uneasy, irregular and restless. Residues of various musical styles appeared, reminding me of Brahms’s formidable skill in imbedding similar such into his own romantic idiom. Audiodrome had as much to offer the heart as the alert ear.

Salvatore Sciarrino was born in 1947. His Caprices for Solo Violin, we heard the first four, must be fiendishly difficult – all is played pp or ppp. In this respect, the pieces recall Berio’s violin Sequenza. This music tests both violin and violinist at the extreme. Over a sustained period, the instrument must emit sounds far softer than usual. Mieko Kanno – on a Giovanni Grancino violin dating from 1700 – played the four pieces to the manner born, with great technical control and modest but self-confident flourish. Her violin’s velvet tone enabled this fiercely disciplined player to produce bare sounds, in muted richness; a lesser instrument would have scratched incessantly – grating and threadbare. These greatly intense whispers sounded far off – in space, time and emotion. Huge spread chords began the Fourth Caprice. Mieko Kanno slashed into the strings as though attacking a Bach Partita, with high romance. Yet the outcome, as intended, was thin, impassioned and distant. A tour de force of violin playing.

Luca Francesconi’s teachers include Corghi, Stockhausen and Berio. He sends his Wanderer on an imaginary trip to the end of the world. There is no return. The soundworld his subject travels through is sturdy, thick and opaque, characterised by sturdy, solid, noisome blocks of disharmony. Orchestral colour is dense, too – oil paintings whose texture comprises layer upon layer of sombre richness, with an occasional gleam. Players of the same instruments were placed at different points on the stage, in the manner of Berio, but to little musical purpose. A wider hall than Studio 1 might suit this effect better. I enjoyed the end of the world, though. There was daylight; there was spring in the air; the going became lithe. Strings predominated – strings conscious of being contemporary, yet mindful, too, of Corelli. Francesconi received the applause gravely and stockily, not unlike one of his blocks of sound.

Under Zsolt Nagy’s careful watch, the BBCSO sounded enthused and engaged, performing recent music of greatly differing styles adeptly, professionally and vigorously.

  • Recorded for future broadcast

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