INKPOT#83/I CLASSICAL MUSIC REVIEWS: Requiem Issue – MARTIN Pamtnik Lidicim. NONO Canti di vita e d’amore. SCHNBERG A Survivor from Warsaw. HARTMANN Symphony No.1 “Versuch eines Requiem”. Bamberg Symphony & Chorus/Metzmacher (EMI)
Bamberg Symphony Orchestra and Men’s Chorusb
EMI Classics CDH 5 55424-2
by Chua Guan Ee
Luigi Nono (1924-1990) was born and later died in Venice. He studied with Malipiero and Maderna, and graduated from the University of Padua with a degree in Law. His foremost musical influence was Anton Webern; and his later works became dominated by his Communist beliefs – injected with “protest” elements such as heavy use of percussion and electronic tape, infused nevertheless with a unique Italianiate lyricism shared in some respects by his teachers and his compatriot, Luigi Dallapiccola.
Nono was often criticised for his stand towards the mingling of music and politics; and it was at one of Hartmann’s concerts at which the Canti di vita e d’amore was being performed that the latter defended his younger colleague: ” in both form and content, [the Canti] are a deep avowal of faith on the part of Luigi Nono, on the part of a young man who expresses his sense of outrage and combats the threat posed for life by the violence of war, who takes the side of human beings in the fight against the inhuman ”
The Canti are scored for soprano and tenor soloists with orchestra; and is in three movements – each with its own text: the first, “Sul ponte di Hiroshima” (“On the Bridge of Hiroshima”) is taken from Gnther Anders’ Hiroshima ist berall; the second movement a nocturne-like section after the harsh dissonances of its predecessor quotes Jess Lpez Pacheco’s Djamila Boupach: Esta Noche; and the third sets a poem by Cesare Pavese, Tu, in an attempt to portray life (after the war) as it once was.
Text plays yet another important role in Karl Amadeus Hartmann’s “Versuch eines Requiems” (“Essay for a Requiem”), his only symphony which employs such an idiom of words and voice. It is in five movements: Introduktion: Elend (Introduction: Misery), Frhling (Spring), Thema mit vier Variationen (Theme with Four Variations), Trnen (Tears), and Epilog: Bitte (Epilogue: Supplication). The booklet-notes describe this symphony as one which “expresses mourning, despair and also anger”. It is “a work of grieving: it endeavours to condemn the evils of the Nazi regime and to mourn those who died in a dignified and appropriate fashion”.
Composed in 1935/36, this “Symphonic Fragment”, as it was originally known, was apparently heavily revised after 1945 to infuse it with a more “humanitarian” response to the situation under Nazi rule. In fact, the composer confirmed that there were no better reasons for the existence of his first symphonic opus than the apparent protest, and his expressions of mourning, despair and anger. The contralto-solo employed is given the task of an intense and impassioned declamation of the text, which is based on words by Walt Whitman. Hints of Stravinsky and Berg permeate the work; but the composer’s ingenuity makes this music compelling which certainly deserves repeated listening.
Another composer featured here who makes known his grief and utter disgust at the crimes against humanity in the Second World War is the Czech composer, Bohuslav Martin, who remembers in Pamtnik Lidicim (Memorial to Lidice) the Czech village of Lidice which had perished under Hitler’s minions on 10th June 1942. This lovely music is characterised by the composer’s penchant for lush harmonies; and a certain nostalgic quality is contained within where strings sing a long, sweeping melody amidst imposing brass-chords: near the end, a solo-horn even declaims Beethoven’s “Fate”-motif.
Arnold Schnberg’s creativity is no better in evidence than in his 6-minute masterpiece, A Survivor from Warsaw. You can almost see with utmost realism the scenes go by as the speaker narrates “his” experience in a death-camp; accompanied by grand orchestral effects which appropriately serve the evocative nature of the text. At the end, the chorus bursts forth with the traditional Jewish hymn, Shem’a Yisroel; culminating for the listener a unique and unforgettable experience.
The programmatic nature of this collection serves aptly to commemorate the tragedies of war; and in four great, individual, 20th-Century perspectives. The unifying agent – besides the subject matter then, are indeed the impassioned and dedicated performers who have made this project more than the sum of its parts. The fire and purposefulness of the pounding timpani and blazing trumpets set the adrenalin pumping in Hartmann’s symphony; and German mezzo Cornelia Kallisch’s mournful solo entry so appropriately accompanies the opening words, “I sit and look out upon all the sorrows of the world, and upon all oppression and shame”.
Textures remain crystalline in the second movement; and the delicate woodwind chords which provide the backdrop for the solo voice are played with such delicious sensitivity. The Berg-ian part-writing and chamber-like transparency in the purely instrumental middle-movement is brought out with such intrinsic care: the Bambergians seem as if to relish every single melodic thread as they weave in and out of each other. And relish they do, indeed, the almost nocturnal fragility of the fourth movement: which calls to mind the “Nachtmusik”-movements of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony.
Kallisch’s slightly mannered reading of the final movement’s opening words does not seem to improve to the end, but she manages a hypnotic monotony over the text that I personally feel suitable to the despondent mood of the closing bars. The jarring, dissonant brass opening of Nono’s Canti is played with such frantic fervour that one cannot help feeling a little queasy due, mostly, of course, to the composer’s penchant for excessive discordance (but, really, these Bamberg musicians are quite an impressive lot!).
Elsewhere in the first movement, Nono’s dense textures are realised splendidly by conductor and ensemble; never letting sight of the music’s direction in the process. Sarah Leonard’s contribution, especially in the entirely-solo second movement must not go unnoticed: she manages almost effortlessly the highest extremes of her tessitura (to at least a C#) without losing her luscious timbre. The composer’s love for unusual percussion-effects is rendered superbly in the final movement, and Thomas Randle’s very capable singing also deserves praise.
Metzmacher’s taut and imaginative reading of Schnberg’s A Survivor from Warsaw is admirable: like an accompaniment to enacted film-scenes, he guides the different “sections” with firm control each leading on to the next; his Bambergian players responding enthusiastically almost excitably – behind Udo Samel’s clear and purposeful German-tinged narration of the English text. The build-up to the choral climax leaves a little to be desired, however “slightly lacking in ferocious intensity” is one way I would put it; and the choral-singing remains a tad mannered and uninspired.
The brief woodwind-chorus after the lush string introduction of Martin’s beautiful Pamtnik Lidicim calls to mind that of Sibelius’ Finlandia in fact, much of this work is Sibelian in its colour and grandeur. The performance recorded here is deeply committed; if not sounding a little perfunctory in various places. Some passion is lost in the central tutti-strings passage or perhaps the intention was to somehow appear straightlaced. The structure of this 7-minute work is concretely realised: rendering the listener powerless in its grandiose sweep from first note to last.
This disc is highly recommended not only for its assemblage of rarely-heard concert works which deserve more frequent attention, but also for the generally excellent performances recorded here. A real treat for those who want more than the customary Requiems…
Portraits from the Schott Music of Our Time webpage. Return to the Requiem Cycle Index… or read other reviews from archives of the Inkvault.