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Luciano Berio: Laborintus II / Mike Patton and Luciano Berio

Notes & Reviews:

Captured on this CD is a remarkable performance of Laborintus II, only the third recording released to the public since it was first performed in 1965. Described as a "music theatre work" by its pioneering composer Luciano Berio (1925-2003), the avant garde piece was commissioned by the national radio agency of France to celebrate the 700-year anniversary of the birth of Dante Alighieri , 1265. Making its world premiere on French radio network ORTF in September 1965, Laborintus II is an edgy audial montage of voices, instrumentation and tape.

Laborintus II was inspired by the writings of Dante scholar Edoardo Sanguineti, who wrote accompanying libretto. Whereas Berio was renowned for layering sounds and overlapping musical genres in his compositions, Italian poet Sanguineti employed the same patchwork and overlap technique with the words he used, the sources he drew from the images his writing evoked for Berio's musical works. Pulling fro his original work of poetry highlight the timelessness of live and mourning, usury and revolt, all of which are interlinking themes in this work. In short, Laborintus II is a modern plunged into the layers of hell, specifically the inferno that Dante immortalized in The Divine Comedy.

Conducted by Georges-Elie Octors, this live performance of Laborintus II at the 2010 Holland Festival in Amsterdam was narrated by another pioneer in experimental music, esteemed vocalist Mike Patton, best known as lead singer of American post-punk band Faith No More. Dutch choir Nederlands Kamerkoor provided the haunting female voices and chorus, while Brussels-based Ictus Ensemble performed the musical accompaniment to this work that is considered one of Berio's masterpieces work as well as the great experimenter's most unusual creation.

Notes & Reviews:

Personnel: Jutta Troch, Samia Bousbaïne (harp); Geert de Bièvre, François Deppe (cello); Michael Schmid (flute); Dries Tack, Carlos Galvez, Dirk Descheemaeker (clarinet); Philippe Ranallo, Michaël Tambour, Loïc Dumoulin (trumpet); Michel Massot, Alain Pire, Nicolas Villers (trombone); Géry Cambier (double bass); Gerrit Nulens, Michael Weilacher (drums, percussion).

Recording information: Muziekgebouaw aan't IJ, Amsterdam (06/18/2010).

In 2010, vocalist Mike Patton teamed with Belgium's Ictus Ensemble, the Nederlands Kamerkoor choir, and a trio of female vocalists to present Italian composer Luciano Berio's Laborintus II at the Holland Festival. Given Patton's wide-ranging music career from pop and metal to the avant-garde, this isn't surprising. That said, given the complexity of the work, its status in 20th century music's vanguard, and the level of the players involved, it is perhaps his most ambitious collaborative project. Berio's 1965 composition was written in celebration of the 700th anniversary of Dante Alighieri's birth. It was performed at the Holland Festival in 1966. The three-part work is titled after, and uses as its text, Marxist writer Edoardo Sanguineti's poem Laborintus, which appropriates fragments of works by Dante, Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, and the Bible alongside original content; all of it comments on the timelessness of love and mourning, while acting as a critique of the commoditization of all things. Patton serves as narrator. He speaks in Italian throughout (though there are lyric translations in the booklet). He is alternately authoritative and declarative, reflective, romantic, priestly, and nearly apocalyptic. He shouts, whispers, declares, and intones. The female vocalists are a counter. They hover in the background, but they are a commanding presence nonetheless, whether cooing, crooning, or howling. The choir responds to Patton's narration. They chant in unison, they argue; they accent the dramatic tension in the music. The Ictus Ensemble shines: they take on this mad music with bracing freshness and mischievous glee. Whether playing a seemingly improvised section or one in which an instrument acts to interrupt another, or offering brief pastoral interludes, or swinging like mad in the jazz section during part two, they are truly stunning. The contrasting roles of percussion and electronics in this work are also important. In their respective ways, they help to erect musical and textural architectures, then disassemble them quickly; they create space as well as dynamic. The challenge for Patton fans is to hear Laborintus II in this new context: one where he is serving the music, trying to draw attention to Berio rather than his voice. Presenting a piece of musical theater as a stand-alone work can be a bit difficult to grasp upon first listen; that said, it does reveal itself ultimately to be a very nearly dazzling endeavor that rewards patience mightily. ~ Thom Jurek


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