Review: Earle Brown - A life in Music, Vol 3

GramophoneThu 29th July 2010
Earle Brown - A life in Music, Vol 3Earle Brown - A life in Music, Vol 3

Berio, Berberian et al in a legendary Contemporary Sound Series

‘Earle Brown - A life in Music, Vol 3’
‘The Voice of Cathy Berberian’
Berio Circles Brown Corroboree Bussotti Frammento Cage Aria with Fontana Mix Mayuzumi Nirvana Symphony; Buddhist Cantata for 12-part male chorus and orchestra R Reynolds Fantasy for Pianist Xenakis Herma
Cathy Berberian voice Francis Pierre hp Jean-Pierre Drouet, Boris de Vinogradov perc Luciano Berio, Yuji Takahashi pfs NHK Symphony Orchestra; Tokyo Choraliers & Nippon University Chorus / Wilhelm Schüchter
Wergo WER69342

As a former recording engineer at Capitol Records, Earle Browne was well placed to supervise a series of eighteen long playing records between 1961 and 1973 featuring music by the leading avant-garde composers of the day and some of lesser eminence. His influence at the recording sessions is reflected in the high artistic standards upheld in the performances on this three-disc set and recordings which had to cope with some extreme dynamic levels inherent in the music.

The first disc highlights the unique voice of Cathy Berberian in Circles composed expressly for her by her husband Luciano Berio. This is a setting of some verses by ee cummings, a favourite poet of Berio, for female voice, harp and two percussionists. Berberian takes centre stage, as she does in all three pieces, making light of the extreme tessitura in a theatrical display of vocal effects, set against a glittering galaxy of instrumental colours spread from left to right across the stereo spectrum.

Berio, on piano, shares the limelight with Berberian in Bussotti’s Frammento with texts taken from various languages and in Cage’s Aria with Fontana Mix, she performs alongside several tapes that act as inspiration for composition procedure rather than a set piece.

In the Nirvana Symphony (1958) on disc two, the Japanese composer Toshiro Mayuzumi recreates his own personal Nirvana to the voices of Buddhist priests and the toll of their temple bell. The music of Schoenberg was his catalyst but there are echoes of Messiaen’s Turangalîla in the textures. This booklet reproduces the original liner-notes, common to all these reissues, with art work by Yoko Ono.

Yuji Takahashi is the indefatigable pianist on the third-disc, “New Music for Piano(s)”, which opens with Herma by Xenakis at his most uncompromising. This is followed by a Fantasy for Pianist by Roger Reynolds where the soloist plucks the strings internally to emulate a zither. Corroboree, Earle Browne’s own composition for three pianos, was written for the three Kontarsky bothers. The title is derived from an Australian word describing a nocturnal festivity with songs and symbolic dances in which aborigines celebrate events of importance. There’s no song and dance here but the joyous result is the most entertaining piece on this disc with Takahashi as soloist complimenting the pre-recorded first and second keyboard parts. Great fun! Adrian Edwards

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