Logos plays Berio

Logos Ensemble has always worked in order to extend the whole contemporary music concept, to free it from the fence of educated European written traditions, and to let it meet and join other traditions, such as the oral and improvisation ones, in the nowhere land of cross-over.  

Their meeting with Luciano Berio comes to be quite predictable: in the 20th century scenario Berio has been an utmost extraordinary fence-breaker, constantly working and playing with different languages. The same is for Logos meeting Luisa Castellani, the chosen voice of the best contemporary music avant-garde, of Berio himself, and a deep and complex interpreter. 

The line-up of the CD features a selection of pieces depicting the main lines of Logos’ critical approach; the whole project is built around a well-known repertoire put together in an unforeseen setting, producing kind of an alienating effect to those expecting a regular monograph.       

Folk Songs (1964). This work, the most suspiciously famous of Berio’s production, appears to be a popular-based theme divertissement. According to the Author it is “both a transcription and elaboration according to an imaginary philology” instead; so, an exercise of rigueur.

The starting material is popular just to little extent: authorial ballads like 1. and 2., second-hand melodies like 9. and 10. (those two from Canteloube’s Auvergnat Chants), songs from old records (11.), Berio’s own compositions (6. and 7.).

Every shade of popular is compared, criticised, melted both with pitches of style coming from avant-garde and the last century’s cultural tradition, and folkloric moods.

It’s easy to see that the viola accompaniment to Black is the colour is a perfect kind of stylised country fiddle, lead apart from the melody; I wonder as I wander and Loosin Yelav end in a pseudo-improvisation atonal/modal instrumental style; the rich tonal orchestration of Canteloube’s Malorous qu’o un fenno is replaced by a simple bass accompaniment; Motettu de tristura’s monody develops on a nearly darmstadtian setting; and examples like those could multiply.

Folks songs were mostly conceived and built around Cathy Berberian’s voice, but they have been a strong input to personal interpretations. Luisa Castellani knows how to comply with the polystylistic demands of the pieces, perfectly fitting their artificial side, their being a squared intellectual game.

So Logos do, by stressing some peculiarity of the instrumental timbre whereas popular or avant-garded style, in a complex game of quotations between second-grade spontaneity and afterthoughts.  

Avendo gran disio and Dolce cominciamento constitute a kind of Folk songs completion: they are a part, together with La donna ideale and Il ballo, of Quattro canzoni popolari for piano and voice, composed (apart from the first) in 1946/47 and edited in 1952.

The last two ended up in Folk songs as an instance of popular imagery; in this record their old companions, in a successful scoring set by Eugenio Becherucci, newly accompany them.

O King (1967) thanks to its elegant and thin architecture recalls another cultural setting; but at a deeper analysis we can fin out more than one path in it tracing back to the Folk songs line. Actually the somewhat euphonic timbre structure and harmonic web are not so far from the Songs’ lightness, even if Berio often used to warn against the false antithesis between research and amusement. Berio’s interest for linguistics is also widely acknowledged; this interest converges both on the collision of linguistic systems in syntax and semantics, and the unfolding phonating processes. As a last consideration, it is well clear in both pieces the self-referring clue of showing off the making act beyond the final result. O King focuses on a double making; one – by endeavours and mistakes – of an interval-headed form; the other – by repetition and piling up of phonemes – of the words “O Martin Luther King”. This very metalinguistic side of the piece lead to it being inserted in the wider structure of that musical anthropology in-progress essay called Sinfonia (1968).

The last thing to mention about it is the etherophonic peculiarity of the piece texture; this feature, near to the usual ethno musicological research themes, is far indeed from the pointillist-like (or also strongly material) shapes so typical of avant-garde.

Luisa Castellani and Logos’ elegant sound and round timbre, and the clear and deep integration between voice and instruments, amazingly stress that game of echoes and feedbacks between verbal and instrumental sounds, pushing it to the limits of fusion and changeability, those already experimented by the Maestro in Circles some years ago.

The last piece is Musica leggera, a 1974 score dedicated to Goffredo Petrassi for his seventieth birthday; it expresses the same instances dressed like an occasional divertissement, made up of a “severe” counterpoint of easy popolaresque lines; light music, so to say, but never renouncing the pleasure of an intellectual game.  


Corrado Vitale