Berio: Recital for Cathy, Folk Songs
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|1. Recital I for Cathy (1971)|
|2. Folk Songs (1964)|
|3. Se i languidi miei sguardi|
|4. "Amor, dov'é la fé"|
|5. ah! he hadn't been there before...|
|6. clarinet that's the sound that's been hauting me...|
|7. Avendo gran desio|
|8. Who hasn't taken a piece out of my life?|
|9. "Musician Exchange: ""these 5 men..."""|
|10. "Excerpts: Mahler, Delibes, Rossini, etc."|
|11. "Calmo e lontano: ""libera nos"""|
|12. Black is the colour...|
|13. I wonder as I wander...|
|14. Loosin yelav...|
|15. Roosignolet du bois|
|16. A la femminisca|
|17. La donna ideale|
|19. Motettu de tristura|
|20. "Malurous qu'o uno fenno (from Canteloube's ""Songs of the Auverge"")"|
See all 25 tracks on this disc
The American-Armenian soprano Cathy Berberian was Luciano Berio's first wife and more importantly longstanding inspirational muse. Though she was influential in many of Berio's more important compositions such as "Circles" and "Sequenza III", his avant-garde "Recital 1" here is often equally fascinating. The "Folk Songs" in various languages and styles compiled by John Jacob Niles also gives Berberian the chance to demonstrate her unique instrument. Her lovely renditions of three songs by Kurt Weill perfectly conclude this extraordinary recital.
Cathy Berberian, singer and wife of Luciano Berio, was one of music's true originals. Equally adept at Monteverdi and the wildest effusions of the avant-garde, her performances brought her husband's music to new and appreciative audiences, while permitting Berio to create some of his most gripping work at the same time. Folk Songs is exactly what the title says--a collection of folk songs from around the world which gives Berberian the opportunity to demonstrate her ability to sing in different languages and styles. Recital 1 is something else again--a monologue for soprano that reveals the slow disintegration of her personality. It's a nervous breakdown in music. Berberian performs everything on this disc brilliantly. --David Hurwitz
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One cannot really classify either the first song, Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair, or the second, I Wonder As I Wander, as a genuine folk song. In fact, John Jacob Niles, the Kentucky-born singer and scholar, whose education included classes with Vincent d'Indy at the Schola Cantorum in Paris, composed them in Elizabethan modes and made them famous by singing and recording them. Berio's suite opens with a viola, free of bar lines and rhythmically independent of the voice, evoking a country fiddler. Harmonics from the viola, cello and harp contribute toward the "hurdy-gurdy sound" Berio wanted to accompany the second song.
Armenia, the country of Miss Berberian's forebears, provided the third song, Loosin yelav, which describes the rising of the moon. In the old French song Rossignolet du bois, introduced by antique finger cymbals, the nightingale advises an inquiring lover to sing his serenades two hours after mid-night, and identifies the "apples" in his garden as the moon and the sun. A sustained chord colored by the striking of automobile spring coils bridges this song to the next one, the old Sicilian song A la femminisca, sung by fishermen's wives as they wait at the docks. Like the first two songs, the sixth, La Donna ideale, and the seventh, ll Bello, come not from anonymous folk bards but from Berio himself, who wrote them in 1949 at the age of 24 for a Fulbright Fellowship voice student in Italy named Cathy Berberian. The old Genoese-dialect folk poem The Ideal Woman says that if you find a woman at once well-born, well-mannered, well-formed and with a good dowry, for God's sake don't let her get away. The Ball, another old Italian poem, says that the wisest of men lose their heads over love, but love resists the sun and ice and all else. Metettu di tristura comes from Sardinia and apostrophizes the nightingale: "How you resemble me as 'I weep for my lover... When they bury me, sing me this song."
The next two come from perhaps the most famous of all folk-music arrangements, Joseph Canteloube's Chants d'Auvergne, in auvergnat dialect. Malurous qu'o uno fenno poses the eternal marital paradox: he with no spouse seeks one, and he with one wishes he had none. A cello echoing the improvisation at the opening of the suite introduces Lo Fialaire, in which a girl at her spinning wheel sings of exchanging kisses with a shepherd.
Miss Berberian discovered the last song, here called simply Azerbaijan Love Song, on a 78-r.p.m. 10-inch disc from the Soviet Asian republic of Azerbaijan, sung in that nation's language except for one verse in Russian, which a Russian-speaking friend told her compared love to a stove. Miss Berberian sung, purely by rote, the sounds she transcribed as best she could from that scratchy old record. She knew not one word of Azerbaijani.
Berio's "Recital I for Cathy" for female voice and 17 instruments (1972) is a highly theatrical work from a composer who loved to mash up modernism and the classical canon and make a scandalous spectacle of it. The soprano begins by beautifully singing an aria by Monteverdi. But in a few minutes, she's abandoned this straightforward performance and begins speaking stream-of-consciousness dialogue, complaining that her pianist is late and other such fears of the performer. The ensemble dissolves into fractured modernist lines, with random quotations from the classical period, big band jazz and even earlier Berio sometimes popping up.
The "Recital I for Cathy" could have never reached a wide audience, for few listeners have the requisite knowledge of bel canto *and* a love of postmodern zaniness. But the work has also dated badly, and while I find this fun enough on an initial listening, it doesn't really have much attraction afterward. Certainly Berio's similar piece "Sinfonia" has shown much more staying power. It's frustrating, for perhaps seeing Berberian perform this live back in the day would have been an amazing experience, but in accessing this piece through recording I cannot be too positive about it.
"Folk Songs" (1964) is a cycle of 11 arrangements Berio made from a wide variety of folk traditions. It opens with "Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair", whose status as a real folk song is dubious, but then precedes through France, Armenia, Italy, Sardinia and elsewhere. It ends with an Azerbaijani love song that Berberian transcribed herself from an old record, though she didn't understand a word of Azeri. Generally, "Folk Songs" is my least favourite work by Berio, as it's quite tame when the composer could do some amazing things when he let his modernism flow freely. Now, there is a video floating around where Berio leads a Swiss ensemble as Berberian sings, and it's clear that her unique stage presence can save the piece. However, I have no desire to hear this again on recording, or sit through any more concert performances by contemporary sopranos who just don't have the mojo.
I'd recommend this disc only for Berio completists, really, though I understand that Berberian has her own little following regardless of what exactly she was actually singing.