[89] Luciano Berio – Sinfonia for Eight Voices and Orchestra

19 Dec

This is a weird and wonderful ride, energetic and mysterious, by design complex to the point of opacity.

Gotesburgs Symphonika and London Voices conducted by Peter Eotvos

Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra and London Voices conducted by Peter Eotvos

The designation Classical becomes very difficult when dealing with modern music, and this 1968 work could be a poster child for the phenomenon.  The orchestration is traditional enough, but the use of eight jazz vocalists speaking snippets of text in such a way as to be never fully understood is something else entirely.

It is this “something else” that makes Sinfonia worthy of a listen.  Imagine expanding on the final coda moment of The Beatles’ album, Sgt. Pepper, into an thirty minute event and you are on your way to understanding what is going on here.

The vocals are urgent and immediate – at times angry, at times contemplative but always incomplete.  They sketch a series of moods rather than telling a concrete story, leaving the details to the listener, guided by the ebbing and flowing of the orchestra.

It is thought-provoking and unique, compelling and surprisingly accessible.  I imagine it would be quite a spectacle to watch in person, but that imaginative aspect is one of the things that make it so enjoyable to listen to.

Perhaps actually seeing the performers would take away some of the magic I experience as I explore these sounds, as I attempt not to completely decipher the (for want of a more accurate word) lyrics.

Both orchestra and vocalists are clearly enjoying themselves throughout here and I find it hard not to get caught up in that joy.  The themes might be tense and hectic – a reflection of the turbulent late 1960s of its composition as well as the uncertain early 2000s of this recording – but the result is a confident exploration of the human condition in the modern world.

It is difficult to be unmoved by a piece that attempts such an undertaking, much less one that succeeds to the extent that Berio does here.

Next Week:  Hector Berlioz – Symphonie Fantastique

Owned before blogging? No. (9 of 89 = 10%)
Heard before blogging? No. (12 of 89 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes. (72 of 89 = 81%)

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