Christoph Eschenbach

Berio: Rendering; Stanze

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Just weeks before his death, Luciano Berio completed Stanze (2003), a five-movement composition for voice and orchestra on poems by Paul Celan, Giorgio Caproni, Edoardo Sanguineti, Alfred Brendel (better known as a pianist than as a poet), and Dan Pagis. This valedictory work is pure Berio, instantly recognizable in its continually shifting layers, sly musical quotations and allusions, fleeting gestures, startling interpolations, and dissolving textures; and its sustained twilight mood resembles the elegiac tone of his most celebrated work, Sinfonia (1968). Where that piece summed up a turbulent decade, Stanze appears to sum up a fascinating life. Even though Berio's meditations on God and death are rather free of rage or resignation -- neither posture is particularly suited to the composer's dry wit and sense of irony -- he is nonetheless probing and questioning of life's meanings, and supplies the texts with fairly unsettling, provocative music. Rendering (1988-1989) is a tongue-in-cheek fleshing-out of sketches Franz Schubert left for a projected Symphony in D major (D936A). It is difficult to mistake Berio's deliberate lapses of harmony, forlorn melodic fragments, and atonal counterpoint for Schubert's more coherent tonal passages; though they have a charming, dreamlike quality, these strange episodes add nothing to an understanding of how the symphony might have developed, and only indicate where it breaks down. This 2005 package of live recordings by baritone Dietrich Henschel, the French Army Chorus, and the Orchestre de Paris, incisively conducted by Christoph Eschenbach, has vivid sound and realistic dimensions, and remarkably few audience noises.

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