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Luciano Berio - Voci (Folk Songs II), (1/3)

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Uploaded on May 8, 2010

Voci (1984)

Kim Kashkashian, viola
Radio Symphonieorchester Wien
Dennis Russell Davies

"The voice always carries with it an excess of connotations...[it] always refers to something other than itself and creates a vast range of associations." — Berio

Like the twin peaks of some artistic Parnassus, two quasi-medieval convictions seem to rule Luciano Berio's music, from the first to the last. The first conviction seems to declaim that the artist can never truly create or destroy, that material (like folk songs, or the body of symphonies) and technology (like the guitar, or tonality) are more or less beyond the waste-laying treads of time. The second, almost a corollary, is that the artist can't really "create" anything either: she is no magic womb for somethings-from-nothings, but rather a relay station caught inside a persistently shifting before-and-aft. To a certain degree, Berio seems to perceive himself as less as a creator than a transcriber of music, perpetually serving as a filter for pre-existent materials; coursing through his mind, the voice of someone else (with all its "excesses of connotations") undergoes — never creation or destruction, but a brilliant sequence of treatments, glosses, and illuminations.

Hence the "voices" of Berio's extraordinary Voci for viola and two chamber ensembles are, unsurprisingly, not quite his own: the hot, almost hexed music of the viola is made of a string of loosely adapted Sicilian folk melodies; the work is even subtitled "Folk Songs II" (sequel to Berio's earlier song cycle from 1964). But surrounding this voice from the outside, spinning in its vortex of concrete culture and association, are two ensembles, one small and one large; they are the pipelines of mediation through Berio conditions this found material in, as he puts it, three ways — emotional identification, experimentation, and abuse.

And so the two orchestras which flank the soloist become much less a means of accompaniment, or even the viola's musical "opponents," than they do a kind of chamber into which the viola's beacon-like voice transmits, an echo-hall which catches, distorts, disperses the calls of a single embodied source. In this sense, the beginning of Voci is exemplary: the viola sings, cries, screeches, and scrapes as if possessed by the ghost of a Sicilian abbagnate singer; its line is brazen, meticulously un-polished and folk-like, full of gestural torque and wild-eyed attitude. But around it are the coolest sounds, seemingly devoid of history, of voice: they are nothing more than the indices of mere accruement and passing time, the gathering pool-like of tones which the viola sends out (perhaps unaware that they're even being caught); only a bit later does this soliloquy begin to generate animation in the orchestras themselves — they seem to quiver to life in fitful ornaments and timbral distortions, like the quickening pulse behind an otherwise chill analytical eye increasingly moved by what it spies. Once this orchestral filter actually comes to marionette-like life, it seems to derive its motion from antiphonal gaming: the small and large ensemble bounce and ricochet figures and color off each other, creating a kind of precarious sonic trampoline on which the viola jumps. [Allmusic.com]

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