Niccolò Castiglioni was a slightly younger contemporary of Luigi Nono and Luciano Berio whose career trajectory was somewhat similar, though not altogether the same. Born in Milan, Castiglioni originally composed in a neo-classical style that was sidelined once he encountered the Darmstadt summer courses in the late '50s. Intoxicated with the possibilities opened up with the works of Anton Webern, for most of his life Castiglioni wrote in a highly concentrated, crystalline style that favored higher registers and the instruments that could play up there. Although serial composition was an important component of his work, his music was not exclusively serial-derivative and toward the end of his life, Castiglioni began to borrow back some elements belonging to neo-classicism as well. He taught in the United States from 1966 to 1970; among his later composition students was the young Esa-Pekka Salonen.
Italian label Stradivarius' Niccolò Castiglioni: Inverno In-Ver is a good overview of the different things that Castiglioni tried in his mature career. Most of the music is performed by students of the Institute of New Music at the Staatlichen Hochschüle für Musik Freiburg; the recording of the Dickinson-Lieder was made in 1989, and the rest of the recordings are undated but apparently come from around this same time. It appears that this Stradivarius release is a reissue of a recording originating with EMI Electrola in Germany. The earliest work here is the Quodlibet, from Figure for solo soprano, dating from 1965; Ingrid Ade-Jesemann sings, speaks, and makes vocal exclamations/sound effects, all in a very high soprano range. The height is the only aspect of this composition that distinguishes it much from Sequenza III for solo voice, though the Berio work is directly contemporaneous to this one and was premiered a little later; both have worn about equally well. Sequenza III has a bit more variety in sound and seems more worked through than Figure, although this is just an excerpt from a larger work, so it is hard to say for sure. Inverno In-Ver (1973) and Quodlibet for piano and chamber orchestra (1976) are very similar; Inverno In-Ver, though very dense with Webernian textures, has a certain sweetness to it, although its restriction to very high registers renders the a piercing sound at times. Quodlibet is darker in tone and not as approachable, though pianist Sakae Kiuchi's negotiation of the treacherous solo part is impressive. Of these works, the most interesting is the simplest and chronologically the last, Hymne for 12 Voices (1988-1989), which departs from the Webernian complexes common to the 1970s works, although it may derive some inspiration from Webern's early chorus Entflieht auf leichten Kähnen -- it has a transparency and variety wholly lacking from the other works.
Judging from this release, Castiglioni was strongly devoted to the precepts of the school surrounding Luigi Nono, but attempted to utilize devices to separate his work from the others. After the turn of the twentieth century into the twenty-first, younger Italian composers have tended to avoid such techniques, or to merge them into textures that clearly derive from other pursuits. Castiglioni may have been a little ahead of the curve, and if so, it seems to have been rooted in a desire to create a sense of distance and independence from his colleagues as much to try to move forward from the examples they put forth. Time will tell if Castiglioni's efforts truly mattered in the end, but in the short term, Stradivarius' Niccolò Castiglioni: Inverno In-Ver makes for some intriguing and provocative listening, even if its total effect is a little anticlimatic and disquieting.