Luciano Berio - The Complete Sequenzas and Works for Solo Instruments

Luciano Berio

 mode 161-163
 (4-CD Set)

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Mode Records - A Record Label Devoted to New Music The Complete Sequenzas and Works for Solo Instruments

All Sequenzas are preceeded by verses of Edoardo Sanguineti performed by Enzo Salomone

Sequenza I for flute  (1958)   (7:56)
performed by Paula Robison

Sequenza II for harp  (1963)   (10:14)
performed by Susan Jolles

Sequenza III for woman's voice  (1965)   (8:46)
performed by Isabelle Ganz

Sequenza IV for piano  (1966)   (12:05)
performed by Aki Takahashi

Sequenza V for trombone  (1965)   (5:02)
performed by Stuart Dempster

Sequenza VI for viola  (1967)   (13:16)
performed by Garth Knox

Sequenza VII for oboe  (1969/2000)   (7:36)
performed by Jacqueline Leclair
performing the official revised Universal Edition of the score,
    edited by Ms. Leclair

Sequenza VIII for violin  (1976)   (13:10)
performed by Irvine Arditti

Sequenza IXa for clarinet  (1980)   (16:04)
performed by Carol Robinson

Sequenza IXb for alto saxophone  (1981)   (13:50)
performed by Kelland Thomas

Sequenza X for trumpet in C and piano resonance  (1984)   (15:16)
performed by William Forman

Sequenza XI for guitar  (1987-88)   (18:42)
performed by Seth Josel

Sequenza XII for bassoon  (1995)   (17:07)
performed by Noriko Shimada

Sequenza XIII for accordion "Chanson"  (1995)   (10:10)
performed by Stefan Hussong

Sequenza XIVa for cello*  (2002)   (11:38)
performed by Rohan de Saram

Sequenza VIb for cello*  (1981)   (15:34)
performed by Rohan de Saram

Sequenza VIIb for soprano saxophone  (1995)   (7:39)
performed by Ulrich Krieger

Sequenza IXc for bass clarinet  (1980)   (13:37)
performed by Alain Billard

Sequenza XIVb for contrabass*  (2004)   (12:56)
performed by Stefano Scodanibbio

Rounds for harpsichord  (1964-65)   (2:08)
performed by Jane Chapman

Gesti for recorder  (1966)   (5:20)
performed by Lucia Mense

Fa-Si for organ  (1975)   (9:47)
performed by Gary Verkade

Les mots sont allés... for cello  (1978)   (4:03)
performed by Rohan de Saram

Lied for clarinet  (1983)   (5:04)

Comma for e-flat clarinet*  (1987)   (1:34)
performed by Carol Robinson

Psy for contrabass  (1989)   (1:57)
performed by Michael Cameron

Chanson pour Pierre Boulez for cello*  (2000)   (2:46)
performed by Rohan de Saram

Gute Nacht for trumpet  (1986)   (1:04)
performed by Brian McWhorter


Luciano Berio greatly enriched the repertoire for solo instruments and voice with his series of sixteen Sequenzas and works such as Psy, Gesti, Rounds and Fa-Si. Written between 1958 and 2002 and spanning almost five decades of Berio's creative career, these solo compositions reflect some of his most crucial aesthetic ideas and compositional techniques.

The first COMPLETE recording of the Sequenazs: This set includes the world premiere recording of Sequenza XIV for solo cello, written for ex-Arditti Quartet cellist Rohan de Saram, who performs the Sequenza here.

The first COMPLETE recording of the alternate Sequenazs: At the request of many soloists, Berio arranged several of the Sequenzas for alternate instrumentation. This set compiles all of Berio's alternate Sequenzas for the first time, also with some first recordings.

Plus all of Berio's works for solo instruments: Also collected together for the first time, Berio's solo works and personal arrangements (with the exception of those for solo piano, which would be a full CD in itself) are included.

Berio was good friends with the Italian author Edoardo Sanguineti, who began writing the verses for individual Sequenzas in 1994. In performance, each verse can be recited before its respective Sequenza. All of the Sanguineti verses are presented here before each Sequenza, as performed by the distinguished Italian actor Enzo Salomone.

An international all-star cast of performers: Mode had the good fortune to begin this set with the help of Mr. Berio, who suggested some of the performers here. They include members of The Arditti Quartet and Ensemble Modern along with other distinguished soloists.

104-page book of extensive notes and biographical information packaged with 4-CDs in deluxe slipcase.


Luciano Berio
Complete Sequenzas and Works for Solo Instruments

Mode 161-163 (4-CDs)

Mode's set of Luciano Berio's "Complete Sequenzas, Alternate Sequenzas and Solo Works" has been awarded the Best Contemporary Music Release 2008 (Premio del Disco Amadeus 2008) from Italy's prestigious Amadeus Music magazine. This is the fourth major accolade for this release, including the 2007 Deutschen Schallplattenkritik Jahrespries, a "Diapason 5" from France's Diapason magazine and one of the year's 10 Best Releases from the New York Times (by Anne Midgette).

Luciano Berio
Complete Sequenzas and Works for Solo Instruments

Mode 161-163 (4-CDs) can't do better than a four-CD set released last year on Mode Records. The performances are extraordinary across the board. The performers include some stars of contemporary music, such as violinist Irvine Arditti and violist Garth Knox, and two of the players -- trombonist Stuart Dempster and cellist Rohan de Saram -- are the original dedicatees of their respective works. Mode has also included alternate arrangements and a host of Berio's other solo pieces, as well as excellent, detailed notes.
--- David Weininger, Boston Globe, March 30, 2007

Luciano Berio
Complete Sequenzas and Works for Solo Instruments

Mode 161-163 (4-CDs)

With two brand-new complete recordings of Luciano Berio's Sequenzas currently staring at you from the shop shelves, we felt it would be a good idea to do a direct comparison. This is of course an uneven match, since the 3 CD Naxos release only covers the 'b' versions of VIIb for soprano saxophone, and IXb for alto saxophone. Mode has all of the alternatives and the complete canon of other solo works by Berio on 4 CDs, so as already noted by other reviewers, completists will most likely go for this 4 CD set. True completists will in fact want both, but that's another story. The Naxos box is in a conventional jewel-case with notes in English and German, players biographies in English only. The Mode set has each CD in its own paper sleeve, a nice chunky book with plenty of information in English, German and French with glossy black and white pictures of the performers in action, and a cardboard box to hold it all together.

One other aspect of the Modus set is the texts which precede each Sequenza. Edoardo Sanguinetti began writing verses for the Sequenzas in 1994, but had already collaborated with Berio on a number of projects from as early as around 1960. Enzo Salomane's deep, resonant voice is a wonderful vehicle for these texts, but the desirability of their inclusion in this way is debatable, even with English translations in the booklet notes (not translated into German or French by the way). I have nothing against texts written on music, and the composer's artistic synergy with Sanguinetti is a matter of record. Having them read at the top of a recording has however the tendency to lend programmatic weight to a work which may not even have been intended by the composer - it may be there is programmatic weight, just not necessarily expressed by that particular text or manner of delivery. If a composer really wanted such things then he would write or select them himself, and probably include them in the score with instructions on options for performance. They are nice enough texts, and have an alliterative resonance and rhythm in the original Italian which is undeniably poetic. Presented with (giving allowances for the translation, and chosen more or less at random); "my capricious frenzy was once your livid calm/my song will be the slowness of your silence", would you be able to guess to which of the Sequenzas this refers? Paste it in front of any of them and we find our suggestible selves nodding in sage agreement with the writer's sentiments. Each text is thankfully given its own track marking, so it is possible to programme them out of an airing of these recordings if desired.

Much of Berio's music, the Sequenzas included, inhabits a world of inner drama which interacts with the outside world in a surreal fashion. It's the kind of drama which confronts and subverts within the mind, entering and rummaging around in the subconscious and then rearing up in front of you like a giant balloon clown when you least expect it. The relationships of perspective between the player and his/her instrument, and between the player and the audience, are in state of constant distortion and flux. This is summed up in a way by that single word 'why' in Sequenza V for trombone. The 'wha' of the mute being moved over the bell of the instrument is given an added declamatory significance after that moment, and a musical conversation or monologue - real or imagined, ensues. Each of the Sequenzas benefits from being seen performed live for this reason as well. The theatrical actions of the musicians as they negotiate Berio's music is another important element which is missed by any recording, although the physical movement involved in Sequenza II for harp does come across to a certain extent in the Naxos recording. In other words, an imaginatively produced but unpretentious DVD version next, please.

So, dear reader, you are still standing in the record shop, busting for a pee or dying for a pint and still wondering which version in which to invest. One is priced at about £13 for three CDs, the other over £40 for four - help! This is very much an uneven playing field, so if budget is a prime consideration I can say now that you will not be disappointed with the Naxos set. In many instances the recordings have a larger stereo soundstage and more depth in the recorded sound, and are certainly placed in a more resonant acoustic, which does reduce the hothouse effect of having the musician a few metres from your chair rather than being in the prime spot in a concert hall.

I do not propose doing detailed comparisons of every piece, so I shall restrict myself to the aspects of certain recordings or performances which, to my mind, stand out as significant. The element of swings and roundabouts has occasionally left me unable to choose, one way or another.

Sequenza I for flute. Honours about equal for this audition-torture work known to flautists all over the world, but where Naxos present Nora Shulman in resonant splendour, Mode's Paula Robison has to make do with what sounds like a large bathroom. The same goes for Sequenza II for harp, and I much prefer Erica Goodman's (Naxos) tuning, articulation, variety in colour and low 'dong's.

Sequenza III for voice is of course a core work in this collection. Both performances are very good, and personal taste plays a huge role in such a piece. Isabelle Ganz (Mode) is a mezzo-soprano with quite a silvery sound at times - the break in her voice very occasionally making her sound like your mad grandmother. Tony Arnold (Naxos) is a soprano, and has to my ears the advantage of being able to reach down from easy highs, rather than push upward from a lower basic range. Ganz is a little more gritty in her 'acting', having a little more depth in this aspect of her performance. Arnold more smiling and flighty, showing some restriction in the lowest notes, but with a schizophrenic inhalation 'gasp' which would have you running for your life.

Sequenza IV for piano is given a more sympathetic acoustic from Mode this time, and Aki Takahashi is just that much more convincing than Boris Berman, who is very good, but whose antimetrics sound merely uneven at times, rather than being engraved in glass.

Sequenza V for trombone receives excellent performances on both releases, but I find Stuart Dempster's (Mode) 'why' over-eggs the pudding, attempting to load the word with too much gaping wonder for my taste. Alain Trudel is more subtle - his 'why' is a strange, plaintive question, but raises more goose-bumps as a result.

Sequenza VI for viola is a bit of a scrub by any standards, but Garth Knox (Mode) is intense almost beyond endurance, certainly beyond comfort. The Naxos recording gives the player a little more acoustic breathing space. Steven Dann attacks the work with similar verve, but the clarity of the moments between repeated notes is a little less obvious.

Sequenza VIIa for oboe is a kind of fantasy around a single note, which is held 'by any other instrument' offstage throughout the piece. Where the Naxos 'note' is a single sine-wave like sound, the Mode recording has a note with texture and the human element, three singers holding the note and breathing 'invisibly'. The spatial effect adds a fascinating extra quality to this intense and dramatic work.

For Sequenza VIII for violin the Mode set has the benefit of the legendary Irvine Arditti, who was central in gathering the musicians for these recordings. Repeated notes, and the filigree gestures and dissonant double-stop intervals which are Berio violinistic fingerprints create a kind of melting-pot of modern technique and style with acknowledgements of ageless tradition. Arditti frequently sounds like two violinists, which means the contrapuntal effects are coming across at their best. This is ground on which it is hard for any other violinist to compete, and while Matej S(arc plays brilliantly I don't quite get the same Berio 'feel'. The notes are all there with S(arc, but Arditti knows how to draw out the personality in the idiom; the Italian voices muttering under the floorboards, as well as creating an incomparable performance.

Sequenza IXa for clarinet is mellifluous and elegant through the playing of Joaquin Valdepeñas on Naxos, helped once again by that rich church acoustic. Carol Robinson has a slightly wider range, more introverted in the soft, lyrical passages, and with a little more bite and attack when things become more hairy.

Sequenza X 'for trumpet in C and piano resonance'; rather than pushing the technical demands of the instrument, extends the acoustic effect of resonance by having selected sympathetically vibrating strings on a piano respond to notes from the trumpet. With Naxos' acoustic already being quite resonant, the effect of the strings is present, but not nearly as dramatic as on the Mode recording. You can hear William Foreman (Mode) changing his direction of play, pointing his trumpet into the piano on certain notes. You also sense vague movements from the poor silent pianist, whose skill and touch with the keys and pedal are doomed to anonymity in both releases. Foreman's 'doodle' tonguing is more convincing than Guy Few's on Naxos, but both have a wide palette of colour, articulation and dynamic.

Sequenza XI for guitar is stunning on both versions, Pablo Sáinz Villegas (Naxos) coming in a spectacular but no less expressive two minutes shorter than Seth Josel (Mode), who spends more time on the more introspective passages.

Sequenza XII for bassoon is one of the longest of all of the Sequenzas, having come about as the result of a close collaboration with bassoonist Pascal Gallois. Berio was clearly fascinated by the 'voice' of the bassoon, expanding at length on its variety of character, from jolly eccentric to grumpy old man through soulful drunk or unfortunate beast, or indeed whatever image is created in your mind's eye. I like Ken Mundy's (Naxos) rounded and beefy tone, and his ability to circular breathe as good as silently, but both performances and recordings have valuable qualities. Noriko Shimada has a microphone placement which picks up the multiple fingerings on one note more clearly, and her playing produces richer overtones, making for a more 'bassoony' sound.

A tag end of Enzo Salomane's voice bleeds a little carelessly into the track of Sequenza XIII for accordion on the Mode version. This minor productional blip takes nothing from Stefan Hussong's marvellous playing however, as micro-windows open into the various worlds into which Berio gives us glimpses - tango, jazz, even some moments which suggest a church harmonium. The piece's lyrical character has a slightly less 'legato' character with Joseph Petric on Naxos, and while technically good, is a less revelatory experience for the imagination.

Sequenza XIV was written for Rohan de Saram, cellist with the Arditti Quartet, and is one of the last pieces Berio wrote before he died. Rohan de Saram inevitably has the edge on anyone else recording this piece, having worked closely with Berio on the work, and performing the premieres of this and the subsequent revisions made between 2002 and 2003. The percussive sounds derive from De Saram's Sri Lankan origins, and his performance is filled with poetry and lyrical expressiveness, as well as having all of the dynamic 'kick' the piece demands. Turning to Darrett Adkins on Naxos, I at first wondered if he was playing the same piece. All I can say is that a player attempting this work is likely to need some kind of masterclass on some of the techniques involved, as many of the intended effects do not come across in at all the same way in the Naxos recording. Adkins is good, but De Saram is as good as definitive.

As far as direct comparisons go, there only remain the two saxophone works on the Naxos set. Sequenza VIIb receives an excellent performance by both Wallace Halladay (Naxos) and Ulrich Krieger (Mode), but the sustained offstage note in both is a characterless sine-wave, and in Krieger's case a note with which the player seems not to be in tune for big patches of the piece. Sequenza IXb is a toss up between rich resonance and a mellow, rounded sound (Naxos), or what sounds like artificial resonance imposed on a dry studio taping (Mode) - there is a definite discrepancy between the 'booth' acoustic and halo of resonance which is helping the sound. Both players, Halladay again for Naxos and Kelland Thomas for Mode are excellent, though I find Halladay more dramatic and varied in his big space, Thomas' version sounds more like a skilled read-through.

So, have you been keeping score? I make it Naxos 5, Mode 8 where it comes to clear wins, with three score-draws. The weakest parts of the Mode set are the recordings of some of the earlier Sequenzas and the saxophone alternatives, Naxos falls down where players are have a less distinctly 'Berio' character, or are less authoritative. The Naxos set has the benefit of a single, pleasantly resonant recorded location, which can however have the effect of 'smoothing out' the extremes of Berio's message. Mode's recordings are almost invariably more detailed and confrontational, but inevitably a bit of a mixed bag. The jewels in their crown are of course the recordings by Rohan de Saram of all of Berio's work for solo cello, and to my mind the violin of Irvine Arditti and accordion of Stefan Hussong to name just a few. Even where the recording are less appealing the performances are always good, and most are superb. I have to agree that, having now heard both sets, and currently having my ears and mind stimulated by wonderful work on the Sequenza XIVb for double-bass and a myriad of other less frequently aired solo works, I would find it hard to rest easy with the Naxos set alone, good though it is. It looks like you are going to have to bite the bullet, stop jingling the loose change in your pocket and get out your credit card...
--- Dominy Clements,, February 2007

Luciano Berio
Complete Sequenzas and Works for Solo Instruments

Mode 161-163 (4-CDs)

Let me start with a childhood memory. Once upon a time in the 1970s, when there were only two RAI TV channels to watch and "culture" hadn't yet become a word from a foreign language, Italians could, if they so desired, enjoy a late night new music series hosted by Luciano Berio, something unimaginable today. Fast forward to 2005 and I find myself horrified reading an article in an English "progressive" magazine that puts the Maestro from Omegna in the same bag as lightweights like Roberto Cacciapaglia and Franco Battiato (the latter much hyped these days, but essentially a fraud, having invented a whole "experimental" career by travelling paths that had already been well trodden years before by illustrious forerunners, before returning to his squalid Italian pop-song origins when he ran out of ideas to "borrow"), so that non-experts might conclude that Berio is a sort of father figure to the musical genres the rag in question calls "the strangest type of spaghetti." This gorgeous 4-CD box should once and for all open the eyes of anybody who still associates Berio with fourth-rate copycats, or those who have probably heard about his music only in a peripheral way ("Cathy Berberian's husband", "Steve Reich's teacher"), and help them understand why this man is an authentic and rare Italian treasure as far as modern art is concerned.

Berio chose the name "Sequenza" because these pieces, composed from 1958 through 2002, were "built from a sequence of harmonic fields from which the other, strongly characterized musical functions were derived". To quote Sabine Feisst's liners, "the Sequenze became seeds for a variety of new works", but the process of transformation and cross-pollination was two-way (as it was in the work of Ives and Mahler too, not to mention Frank Zappa's "conceptual continuity"). A case in point is Sequenza IXa for clarinet (here masterfully rendered by Carol Robinson) which derives from Chemins V, a work Berio withdrew shortly after its premiere. This Mode set represents the very first time in which all the Sequenze (even the "posthumous" ones, notably Stefano Scodanibbio's excellent transcription for double bass of the cello Sequenza XIV) and the works for solo instruments have been gathered together in a single release. Listening to the whole thing in one go is difficult but not impossible, as Berio's articulately bright writing highlights both the strengths and the less explored nuances of every instrument while maintaining an evident intelligibility, a consequence of the composer's interest in popular traditions and themes he often loved to mix with more experimental and serial techniques. Virtuosity is a necessity, never mere technical showing off; according to Berio's instructions some of these scores should be played sempre molto flessibile, quasi improvvisando ("always very flexible, almost improvising"), a good example being the majestic Fa-Si (tackled by Gary Verkade on the pipe organ). The performers, a veritable Who's Who of great soloists including Irvine Arditti, Stuart Dempster, Rohan De Saram, Isabelle Ganz, Ulrich Krieger, Seth Josel and Aki Takahashi (to name but a few), contribute with heartfelt passion to the success of the project. Each Sequenza is introduced by actor Enzo Salomone reciting verses by Edoardo Sanguineti, one of Berio's closest friends and collaborators.

Let's try to sketch a path through this huge compendium. Sequenza VI for viola features a scintillating performance by Garth Knox, who executes the "formal study on repetition" with muscular brilliance, in a fabulous cross between Paganini and Jon Rose. A cycle of ten chords progressively expands until the twelve-tone chromatic field is reached, with outrageous tremolos leading to a more tranquil melodic exploration (which must come as enormous physical relief for the player). Sequenza VII for oboe was written with the help of its dedicatee Heinz Holliger, who presented Berio with a lot of alternative and extended techniques used in the "virtual polyphony" which was one of the composer's stated objectives when working with monophonic instruments. Jacqueline Leclair applies her own touch of magic, sustained by a female vocal drone whispered in the background in another high-intensity moment of truth. Sequenza X for trumpet in C (played by William Forman) is a poignantly lyrical exploration of natural reverberation elicited by the trumpet's waves from an amplified piano (the soloist is asked to play directly into the instrument), with seriously dramatic results. Sequenza XII for bassoon (another wonderful reading by Noriko Shimada) is, on a purely emotional level, one of the most exquisite listenings on offer here, its fantastic slow glissandi an impressive example of the virtuoso circular breathing needed to play this score. Gesti, which Feisst rightly describes as "a classic in contemporary recorder literature", is indeed a fantastic concoction of instrument and voice interpreted with furious enthusiasm by Lucia Mense, while Chanson pour Pierre Boulez for cello, composed for its dedicatee's 75th birthday, starts with Rohan De Saram playing a slow line that after a while mutates into a Tony Conrad-like beneficial electrocution, a short yet engrossing pleasure, not to mention a great birthday present. Sequenza XI for guitar is a showcase for Seth Josel's extraordinary digital dexterity, as every conceivable form of guitar-related fingering and technique derived from both flamenco and classical traditions is applied with as much vigour as surgical precision. Although it's one of the longest tracks on offer, listening to its wood, flesh and metal is a pure joy, and not only for guitarists. The "folk" element that characterized many phases of Luciano Berio's career is to the fore again in Stefan Hussong's accordion playing on Sequenza XIII, which is one of the most accessible tracks, along with Sequenza IV for piano (Aki Takahashi). The spectacular theatre of voices performed by Isabelle Ganz in Sequenza III is typical Berio / Berberian matter, but noteworthy for its avoidance of the insufferable (at least for this writer) technical gadgetry usually associated with the female voice in contemporary music (much of which, ironically enough, was instigated by Berberian herself). Ganz's rendition is just superb - and surprisingly sober, giving the work a real touch of class.

Listening to veritable masterpieces such as these one gets a true sense of fulfillment. It remains a mystery to me how presumably experienced listeners can still be seduced by and give credence to marginal phenomena like those mentioned at the beginning of this review. After many rewarding hours spent with The Complete Sequenzas, my rage at how things work in the music world grows more and more. At least I can console myself with the thought that Luciano Berio never read that particular article, and that he's probably smiling with irony in the hereafter.
--- Massimo Ricci,, October 2006

Luciano Berio
Complete Sequenzas and Works for Solo Instruments

Mode 161-163 (4-CDs)

I have listened to colour - chains, muscular, aggressive
I have touched your rough, rigid resonances.

Written by Italian author Edoardo Sanguineti to preface "Sequenza II" for harp, that dedicatory line aptly encapsulates all of the Sequenzas, an astounding anthology of works written between 1958 and 2002 for solo performers by Luciano Berio (1925-2003). Enshrining then-new extended techniques-tame, mild-mannered instruments like the flute and the bassoon become a miniaturized jungle of quiet murmurs, clicks, wraithlike chords, and electronic tones - the Sequenzas reveal unthinkably new timbres while catapulting performers towards terrifying heights (as well as speeds) of virtuosity.

Two new multi-disc sets collect the complete Sequenzas and offer a superb, if not superior, alternative to the 1998 Deutsche Grammophon (DG) edition, which understandably lacks the final "Sequenza XIV" composed in 2002. A detailed comparison of the DG, Mode, and Naxos releases may someday devour someone's doctoral dissertation, however a cursory comparison of the famed "Sequenza III" for woman's voice reveals much about all three collections.

Written in 1965 for his ex-wife mezzo-soprano Cathy Berberian, "Sequenza III" hurls several disparate sound-worlds into a singular orbit: standard operatic technique, everyday speech, and Fluxus actions, all condensed into episodic and jarring shifts in timbre reminiscent of Anton Webern. Berio embeds Markus Kutter's text ("Give me a few sing...") in laughter, humming, tongue-clicks, yodeling, trills, and breathy exclamations; live, "Sequenza III" becomes a show-stopping aria that draws upon almost every aspect of the human voice. Tellingly, the score teems with specific directions, including "giddy," "muttering," "bewildered," and "dreamy."

Cathy Berberian's classic 1967 recording of "Sequenza III," reissued on CD by Wergo in 1991, remains the central document. Despite audible edits (listen for the suddenly diminishing, dialed-in echo) and a gentle room tone lightly dusted with hiss, Berberian's performance is a tour de force. Berberian radiates a warm, vivid presence rooted not only in analog tape compression, but in a careening, meteoric intensity reminiscent of high-wire operatic arias and close-miked old blues recordings. Luisa Castellani, who also worked closely with Berio, gives a similarly passionate performance on the DG set; her mouth cavity tones resonate with greater precision, yet her finger snaps don't quite come off and her initial muttering feels too mechanical. Unlike the Wergo recording, the DG, Mode, and Naxos sets have a wider dynamic range and depth of field, thus conferring a realistic sense of distance, as if the stage is a few feet away and the auditorium empty, pristine.

Like Berberian, Isabelle Ganz on Mode heeds the score's opening direction, "tense muttering/walking on stage." On the Wergo disc, Berberian's voice emanates from the far right channel; DG has Castellani rising slightly in volume but not palpably enough to convey a sense of emergence or even mere motion. Soprano Tony Arnold emerges too, but the Naxos recording's plummier reverb has a curvature that sometimes dilutes the intensity of her performance; some quieter segments the such as the lip-flapping tremolo near the end sound submerged. Arnold does dazzle though, especially with short bursts of frenetic wheezing, as if her vocal cords were shivering and rasping together.

Of all four singers, Ganz finds the best balance, conveying the words while keeping the intensity of the work's non-verbal aspects aflame. Bettering even Berberian, Ganz manages to blast " a few words before, to be..." while retaining the full sense of the words, a remarkable, spine-chilling feat.

So which collection is better? Overall, both Naxos and Mode sets contain performances ranging from good to great. The budget-priced Naxos release has no frills: short liner notes, and, excepting soprano Tony Arnold, boasts few "name" performers. Mode enlisted several new music all-stars-Irvine Arditti, Stefano Scodanibbio, Carol Robinson, Stuart Dempster, Rohan de Saram - and added a fourth disc of seldom-heard solo works. I appreciate Mode's inclusion of Edoardo Sanguineti's optional prefatory spoken texts on separate tracks. Alas, on disc 3, the spoken intro bleeds into (but doesn't overlap) the track for "Sequenza XIII." Unless you're in shuffle mode, it's unnoticeable. For thoroughness and extras, Mode has the edge and is the first choice, though you can't go wrong with either edition. Essential.
--- Christopher DeLaurenti, Signal to Noise, September 2006

Luciano Berio
Complete Sequenzas and Works for Solo Instruments

Mode 161-163 (4-CDs)

There have been several recordings of Berio's amazing corpus of virtuoso instrumental solos (plus one for voice), but none is as complete as this four-disc set, which includes various Sequenza transcriptions by Berio and others. It is fascinating to compare Sequenza VI, for viola (Garth Knox), with the version (VIb) made by the cellist Rohan de Saram before getting his own Sequenza (XIVa) in 2002, the year before Berio's death. This was in turn adapted for contrabass (XIVb) by Stefano Scodanibbio: these last three are first recordings. Spoken verses by Berio's frequent collaborator Edoardo Sanguineti precede each Sequenza. Nine other short items are included.
--- Paul Driver, The Sunday Times (London), 24 September 2006

Luciano Berio
The Complete Sequenzas and Works for Solo Instruments

Mode 161-163

As a body of works for solo instruments, the series of Sequenzas written by Luciano Berio between 1958 and 2002 is without equal in the literature of late 20th century music. Though not the first recording of the complete Sequenzas - others have appeared on Deutsche Grammophone and Naxos - this four CD set, over ten years in the making, presents for the first time the final Sequenza XIV performed by its dedicatee, cellist Rohan De Saram, and the arrangement bassist Stefano Scodanibbio made of it a year after Berio's death in 2003. In addition to the 19 Sequenzas, the fourth disc also includes nine further works for solo instruments, ranging from the wild two minute harpsichord tour de force Rounds (1965) to the exquisite Chanson Pour Pierre Boulez (2000), recorded for the first time by De Saram, and also features Gesti, a sequenza in all but name written in 1966 for the Dutch recorder virtuoso Frans Brüggen.

Though the Sequenzas represent benchmarks in terms of technical difficulty and notation, they are by no means exercise in virtuosity for its own sake. The fact Berio used them as a reservoir for numerous spin-off chamber pieces indicates how important they were to him as extensions of his own musical language. The complexity of Darmstadt-dra serialism was just a starting point to explore compositional techniques in Western and non-Western musics past and present. The influence of the Bach Chaconne (in Sequenza VIII for violin) is as important as flamenco rasgado technique in the guitar Sequenzas and Sri Lankan Kandyan drumming (in XIV). The diversity of the music is breathtaking, from the violent post-impressionism of Sequenza II (for harp) to the theatrical antics of III and V, the latter performed by its dedicatee, trombonist Stuart Dempster, and the awesome virtuosity of violinist Irvine Arditti (VIII) and bassoonist Noriko Shimada (XII).

But it's a credit both to Berio's skill as a composer and to the equally of the performers that works once considered well-nigh unplayable, having been tailored to incorporate the techniques of their dedicatees - notably vocalist Cathy Berberian (Sequenza III) and oboist Heinz Hollinger (VII) - can be performed with such precision by others. In accordance with Berio's wishes, each Sequenza is prefaced by a quotation from the poetry of Edoardo Sanguineti, read by Enzo Salamone, and the set includes a thorough essay by Sabine Feisst. An essential release.
--- Dan Warburton, The Wire, August 2006

Luciano Berio
Complete Sequenzas and Works for Solo Instruments

Mode 161-163 (4-CDs)

MODE publica una fascinante versión de las Sequenzas de Berio a cargo de un auténtico Dream Team de intérpretes Secuencias para grandes intérpretes S equenzas de Luciano Berio (1925-2003) supone desde luego uno de los ciclos sonoros más extraordinarios del siglo XX, un suntuoso y colorista mosaico que iba a enriquecer con su belleza y hondura la literatura instrumental de nuestra época. Son catorce estas Sequenzas, con algunas variantes que elevan el número a dieciocho, escritas entre 1958 y 2002, reunidas todas por primera vez -junto con sus piezas para un solo instrumento, con la única salvedad de las pianísticas, que requerírian al menos otro disco-en la presente y magnífica integral en cuatro compactos preparada por el sello MODE. De hecho, la grabación de la serie ha llevado más de una década de esfuerzos -lo que dice mucho sobre la entidad y envergadura del proyecto-, contando con el consejo del mismo Berio en lo referente a la elección de los intérpretes. Era éste, desde luego, un capítulo particularmente importante al conceder el compositor italiano un papel fundamental al virtuosismo, y más en concreto al «virtuosismo de la sensibilidad y la inteligencia», puesto que «sólo los mejores solistas son capaces de tocar con vasta perspectiva histórica y de resolver los conflictos entre las exigencias creativas del pasado y el presente, utilizando su instrumento como herramienta de investigación y expresión». No podía, entonces, disponer de mejores traductores de su estética sonora y de su pensamiento que los ahora reunidos: nada menos que Irvine Arditti (violín), Rohan de Saram (chelo), Stefano Scodanibbio (contrabajo), Garth Knox (viola), Stuart Dempster (trombón), Jane Chapman (clavecín), Isabelle Ganz (mezzo), Aki Takahashi (piano), Jacqueline Leclair (oboe); Susan Jolles (arpa) o Carol Robinson (clarinete), entre otros, lo cual significa muchos de los nombres más granados de la escena interpretativa del momento.

Berio definió sus Sequenzas como «fragmentos construidos a partir de una secuencia de campos armónicos de la cual se deducen otras funciones musicales altamente características». Dicho en otras palabras, una serie de solos instrumentales, de duración hasta cierto punto breve, que constituyen un amplio repertorio de recursos armónicos, dinámicos, tímbricos, tonales y, a la par, desde luego, un muy vasto catálogo de tratamientos interpretativos que, en varios casos, llevan al límite las posibilidades sonoras de los diferentes instrumentos. Y es que el ciclo en conjunto está recorrido por la búsqueda de la polifonía, extrayéndola y si es preciso arrancándola de estructuras de suyo monófonicas, explorándola por medio incluso «del instrumento más monódico de la historia, la flauta». Para ello deberá recurrir por ejemplo al contraste entre notas principales y secundarias, al contrapunto sugerido de varias líneas cromáticas, a la dialéctica entre nota y ruido, a la repetición de módulos como telón de fondo a secciones aparecidas sólo una vez, al cambio constante de registros y de comportamientos acústicos. Pero tan amplio repertorio de técnicas no debe hacernos perder de vista algo desde luego fundamental, como es la espléndida sensualidad, abigarrado colorido y soberbio lirismo que desprende este, por otra parte, riguroso universo musical. Cada pieza puede entenderse así como un retrato, una instantánea sonora de las capacidades y potencialidades del violín, el arpa, el piano, el clarinete, el oboe o el acordeón, por ejemplo, sin olvidar por supuesto esa voz humana siempre tan cargada de connotaciones para Berio. Se percibe, además, algo de ensoñación, algo furtivamente onírico en los variados paisajes sonoros creados por los diferentes intrumentos, como si se hubiera dejado vía libre a su expresividad más poética, violenta o delicada, carnal o meditabunda, como si arrastrados por un impluso improvisatorio ellos mismos decidieran revelarnos sus secretas interioridades, todo ello, digámoslo de nuevo, a pesar de la poderosa lógica constructiva que gobierna cada una de las Sequenzas.

Todas estas versiones, por su alto nivel de calidad, por el compromiso extremo que demuestran los intérpretes, requerirían sin duda un comentario pormenorizado, pero habremos de contentarnos con mencionar sólo unas cuantas. Paula Robison aporta aliento y aleteo arrebatador a la complejísima Sequenza I para flauta; Susan Jolles extrae energías insospechadas de su arpa, utilizada a veces como vigoroso instrumento de percusión en ese territorio siempre cambiante que es la Sequenza II; Isabelle Ganz demuestra su sensibilidad y sentido del dramatismo en Sequenza III para voz femenina; Stuart Dempster pone en pie una ingente cantidad de recursos sonoros en esta casi humorística Sequenza V para trombón; la digitación de Garth Knox alcanza velocidades endiabladas en los extenuantes tremolos de Sequeenza VI para viola; Irvine Arditti se aplica con genio en las vertiginosas figuras de Sequenza VII para violín; Seth Josel exhibe un amplio catálogo de recursos y una significativa comprensión armónica en esa maravilla que es Sequenza XI para guitarra; Steffan Husong explora con intenso lirismo las sonoridades del acordeón en Sequenza XIII; Rohan de Saram está rítmicamente explosivo en Sequenza XIVa para violonchelo; Steffano Scodanibbio imparte una auténtica lección sobre el tema «sonoridades inhabituales» en Sequenza XIVb para contrabajo. A riesgo de agotar al lector, vale más dejar aquí esta lista de nombres, si bien hay en esta integral otras espléndidas interpretaciones. En fin, decir para terminar que estamos ante una integral por completo insoslayable para cualquier oyente aficionado a la mejor música de nuestros días, sin más calificativos.
--- Javier Palacio, Diverdi, August 2006

Luciano Berio
Complete Sequenzas and Works for Solo Instruments

Various Artists
Mode 161-163 (4-CDs)
Four Stars

Every time a set of Berio's Sequenzas appears on disc it seems to make new claims for completeness. A Naxos set, featuring Canadian instrumentalists, was released earlier this year and was the first to include all 14 of the works that Berio composed before his death in 2003; this latest one, a compilation of recordings made over more than a decade, also includes a number of Berio's other small-scale works for solo instruments, as well as all the arrangements of the Sequenzas for other instruments that he sanctioned. Each Sequenza is preceded here by a reading of the verses that the poet Edoardo Sanguineti, a friend of Berio, wrote for each piece, and there are important documentary recordings - especially those of the trombone Sequenza V and Sequenza XIV, which are performed by the instrumentalists for whom they were written: Stuart Dempster and Rohan de Saram respectively.

With musicians such as Irvine Arditti, Garth Knox, Paula Robison and Aki Takahashi also involved the level of virtuosity on these discs is staggeringly high; anyone interested in Berio's solo pieces, perhaps the most important instrumental music in our time, should explore this collection.
--- Andrew Clements, The Guardian, Friday August 25, 2006

Luciano Berio
The Complete Sequenzas and Works for Solo Instruments

Mode 161-163 (4-CDs)

Despite shifting trends and changing tastes in post-modern era contemporary music, Luciano Berio remains one of the most respected figures among composers active in the last half of the twentieth century. Berio's series of Sequenzas, however, are viewed as his main contribution to solo instrumental literature, sort of like Hindemith's instrumental sonatas except that Berio didn't manage to cover all the bases in terms of instruments. This has led some artists to make adaptations of certain Sequenzas for their particular instruments, and Berio cast his blessing upon some of these efforts. All of the original Sequenzas, which had arrived at the number 14 by the time Berio died in 2003, plus all approved arrangements and all short, non-pianistic solo works by Berio, appear in Mode's exhaustive Berio: Complete Sequenzas and Solo Works. Students wishing to prepare a Berio Sequenza for a recital should stop here first.

Although Naxos managed to speed out a similar collection a little ahead of this one, it's really not in the same class with the Mode - the label spent more than a decade recording this set with artists that Berio himself favored. Many of the performances are downright amazing, for example Aki Takahashi's mind-bending performance of the Sequenza IV for piano and Kelland Thomas's smoky, soulful reading of Sequenza IXb for alto saxophone, just to mention a couple. All of the interpretations are first rate, as is the annotation, photographs and sound, which retains a surprisingly consistent quality from track to track, as this 4-disc set was recorded all over the map over a long period of time. Poet Edoardo Sanguinetti reads a short poetic prologue to each Sequenza, as sanctioned by the composer, and while the readings, in Italian, are charming and set the scene for each piece in an elegant way, one is grateful that they are presented as separate tracks, so one only need to re-sequence to listen to the music without them.

So why does Berio persist in a post-turn-of-the-century era where everything created in the last century is subject to review? Because the Sequenzas, while fully composed, sound like improvisations and have the quality of flexibility. Expert performers prefer this having such capability over pieces where the effort has gone into the front end, deriving from some strategy that is not in itself worked out in an interesting way. Berio's music has a good chance of retaining currency within the future, and Mode's Berio: Complete Sequenzas and Solo Works represents the gold standard in paving the way for his legacy.
--- David N. Lewis, All Music Guide, July 2006

Luciano Berio
The Complete Sequenzas and Works for Solo Instruments

Mode 161-163

A Set of Defiant Works, Two Ways, Both Difficult Naxos and Mode release Luciano Berio's "Sequenzas"

LUCIANO BERIO did not necessarily conceive his "Sequenzas" to be heard together as a cycle. Virtuosic and intense works for solo instruments (including voice), they make for compelling though not easy listening. But they seem to be heading toward a kind of monumental memorialization, like that of Beethoven's piano sonatas or the preludes and fugues of Bach's "Well-Tempered Clavier."

Three years after Berio's death, two complete recordings of the "Sequenzas" - 14 works (with variants), written over nearly five decades - have come onto the market: one, on four CD's, from the independent label Mode; the other, on three CD's, from the budget label Naxos. They join a set that has been considered definitive, a recording by members of the Ensemble Intercontemporain, released by Deutsche Grammophon in 1999. But the new ones have at least one clear advantage: the final "Sequenza," for cello, which Berio wrote only in 2002.

Disparate as they are, the "Sequenzas" have things in common. One is a kind of self-consciousness about the act of creating music in the specific language of a given instrument, often with reference to specifics of the instrument's history and performance. Many of the pieces proceed from a note or two, starting with defiant, repeated statements of a tone (like the Eighth, for violin) or winding their way around a sustained sound from without (like the 10th, for trumpet and piano resonance). Berio's concept of the term "sequenza" was that each piece would derive from a sequence of harmonic fields, a derivation that can clearly be heard.

Yet whether they assail (like the Sixth, for viola, which opens with a figurative grabbing of the listener's lapel) or lull (like the melodious Ninth, for clarinet), the pieces tend to follow a similar dramatic arc through spasms of activity back into quiet resignation. Berio wrings this drama from each instrument with a formidable range of technical means: special tonguings or bowings or beatings on the soundboard and, often, sounds that carry the performer to the brink of speech.

The Fifth, for trombone, which casts the player as a lugubrious clown, puts in his or her mouth a summarizing word, "Why?" This is a crowd of distinct voices, demanding attention, that taken together can wear on the senses. And since each piece rises and falls on individual performance, it is difficult to judge them as a group.

The Mode set, to be sure, offers a sense of having been officially sanctioned. The project took shape after performances at the 92nd Street Y of all the "Sequenzas" (then 13) for Berio's 70th birthday in 1995. Berio guided the choices of performers, and two of them (Stuart Dempster, the trombonist, and Rohan de Saram, the cellist) are the original dedicatees of the works for their instruments.

This set also aspires to be definitive, collecting every alternative version of each piece (the Sixth rearranged for cello, the Ninth for alto saxophone) as well as Berio's other works for solo instruments, like "Gesti" for recorder and "Psy" for double bass, which one might term "Sequenzas Lite." An unexpectedly appealing feature is the inclusion of short spoken verses that the poet Edoardo Sanguineti, a collaborator of Berio's, wrote to accompany each "Sequenza": pithy and illuminating, they act like a sorbet to cleanse the palette between each rich course.

But the Naxos set has advantages even beyond its considerably lower price, like an elegant, even melting rendition of the clarinet sequenza by Joaquin Valdepeñas. The measure of a performer's success lies in the difference between merely executing the notes and internalizing them.

There is no single right approach. Mr. Dempster, not surprisingly, brings out a prodigious level of articulate nuance in "his" trombone "Sequenza." Yet Alain Trudel, on Naxos, turns that "Why" into the statement of a frightened cartoon, which, at least momentarily, seems exactly what Berio intended.
--- Anne Midgette, The New York Times, 25 June 2006

Luciano Berio
The Complete Sequenzas and Works for Solo Instruments

Mode 161-163

"For you I have multiplied my voices, my vocabulary, my vowels..." Although Italian author Edoardo Sanguineti wrote that dedicatory line for Sequenza VIII, it aptly describes all of the Sequenzas, an astounding series of works for solo instruments written between 1958 and 2002 by Luciano Berio. The Sequenzas reveal unthinkably new timbres, codify new instrumental techniques, and push performers to terrifying heights (as well as speeds) of virtuosity. Monophonic (one-note-at-a-time) instruments like the flute and the bassoon become a miniaturized orchestra of quiet murmurs, clicks, wraithlike chords, and quasi-electronic tones.

Two new recordings, Berio: Sequenzas I-XIV (Naxos) and Berio: Sequenzas & Solo Works (Mode), collect the complete Sequenzas and offer a superb, if not superior, alternative to the pricey 1998 set on Deutsche Grammophon, which lacks the final Sequenza XIV composed in 2002. A detailed comparison of all three sets could consume a doctoral thesis; briefly, the Naxos and Mode discs contain performances ranging from really good to great. The budget-priced Naxos release has no frills, short liner notes, and, excepting soprano Tony Arnold, boasts few "name" performers. Mode enlisted several new music all-stars - Irvine Arditti, Carol Robinson, Stuart Dempster - and added a fourth disc of solo works. Also, I appreciate Mode's inclusion of Edoardo Sanguineti's optional prefatory spoken texts, all indexed on separate tracks. You can't go wrong with either set. Essential.
--- Christopher Delaurenti, The Stranger, Jun 1 - Jun 7, 2006

Related Resources:

Luciano Berio: The Great Works for Voice (mode 48)

Irvine Arditti Profile

Alain Billard Profile

Jane Chapman Profile

Isabelle Ganz Profile

Seth Josel Profile

Garth Knox Profile

Ulrich Krieger Profile

Jacqueline Leclair Profile

Brian McWhorter Profile

Lucia Mense Profile

Carol Robinson Profile

Aki Takahashi Profile

Kelland Thomas Profile

Gary Verkade Profile

Rohan de Saram online, Sequenza VIb, XIV and Les mots sont allés...
Stefan Hussong online, Sequenza XIII
Stefano Scodanibbio online, Sequenza XIVb

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