Kleine Dreigroschenmusik

London Sinfonietta Voices

London Sinfonietta
Diego Masson

Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 2 August, 2005
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

I am tempted to stick my neck out – only a third of the way through the season – to say that this was the Prom of the Season. Yes, even over Domingo and Terfel in “Die Walküre” and whatever the future claims that the Clevelanders, the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, and others, may hold.

My mind was quite simply blown by the pungency of Kurt Weill’s suite from his most famous collaboration with Bertolt Brecht, “The Threepenny Opera”. I bathed in the wilful rasping of the winds, piano, guitar/banjo, accordion and percussion players, as the seedier side of life was beguilingly illustrated.

The second piece was Berio’s “Coro”, programmed in honour of what would have been the composer’s 80th-birthday year. The Proms has a history with “Coro”. Berio himself conducted the world première of its Revised Version at the 1977 Proms (with the Cologne Radio Chorus and Symphony Orchestra, and recorded it for DG), and once more in 1991 with BBC forces. It was fantastic to welcome “Coro” back, in what was a wholly convincing performance by Diego Masson and the London Sinfonietta.

With 84 performers on stage – 40 singers, each sitting next to an instrument of similar range to their voice and only the two percussionists, this was both a visual and aural treat. Part of the mystique in the layout is trying to determine where the individual singers are … all of this was utterly captivating. “Coro” single-handedly reconfigured our view of how performers can be arrayed on stage, and no-one (not even Stockhausen) has so successfully produced a work to equal its power.

Impossible to categorise and far-too lengthy to dissect in a review, Berio’s painstaking mixture of various verses from around the world (Polynesian, Sioux, Persian), mostly translated into another language (English mainly, but also French, German and Italian), with a linking text by Chilean Pablo Neruda, eventually expands to offer a profound concept of the modern world (“Come and see the blood on the streets”), which both celebrates life while recognising its inherent violence.

“Coro” is an overwhelming hour, which such plain words and superlatives as these can little evoke. Suffice to say that, once again, Berio creates a soundworld that is irresistibly all-encompassing and, come the end, one is rudely awakened into the real world with a profound sense of loss.

Listen to the performance on-line, and hope that Warner Classics may choose it as one of its Proms 2005 CD releases next year. At the moment I can’t quite imagine any other concert in this year’s season that could equal Berio’s unique conception, its power, and this performance of it.

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