Dienstag, 9. November 2010

Luciano Berio / Cathy Berberian - Recital I for Cathy / Folk Songs / Three Songs By Kurt Weill (1995, 3 Kurt Weill Songs)

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.

"Recital I for Cathy" (1971) typifies his "collage" technique. Recital includes a Monteverdi aria, more or less straight, a mock-Baroque aria Berio had written in the Forties, various phrases from Mahler, Schubert, Verdi, Prokofieff, Purcell, Schoenberg, and others, all set against a swirly, scintillating background. Berio requires his ex to turn from one to another after as few as three notes. This sort of thing could easily become pointless, but Berio provides a dramatic situation. A mezzo rehearsing for a recital waits for her accompanist to show up and becomes unhinged, skittering from one item in her repertoire to another. The work becomes a modern equivalent of the operatic "mad scene," a toothsome duck soup to Berberian. She certainly knows how to act while she sings, although less so when she speaks or sprechstimms – that is, speaks on approximate pitches in a specified rhythm. Consequently, the work succeeds best when Berio gives her actual pitches. For me, however, the main attraction is Berberian, rather than the work, which strikes me as too easy. It's Berberian who gives it class.

"Folk Songs", from 1964, yet another collage, this time mixes settings written over roughly two decades together in one work. Purists will find the work misnamed. It includes folk tunes, fake folk, and pop – 11 in all – from the United States, France, Italy, Sicily, Sardinia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. To me one of the most beautiful vocal works of the post-war era, Folk Songs uses a chamber instrumentation of flute, clarinet, harp, viola, cello, and percussion. It begins with a fiddler "playing himself in" as the singer begins "Black is the color of my true love's hair" and moves into "I wonder as I wander," both by John Jacob Niles. Simple though these tunes may be, they are artfully simple. Berberian brilliantly catches their flavor by turning herself into a concert version of "mountain soprano" Jean Ritchie, thinning out the tonal heft while remaining sweet and true. As in Recital I, largely traditional settings are put into avant-garde environments. Yet, the tunes keep their vernacular character. The Italian set (including Sicily and Sardinia) surprised me the most, since most of them sound Falla-Spanish to me. The Sardinian "Motettu de tristaru" and the French "La fiolairé" (from Canteloube's Chants d'Auvergne) receive the most extreme treatment. Berio, to his credit, throws the spotlight on the basic material, rather than on his contributions per se. Nevertheless, it remains, in its post-modern eclecticism, a resolutely contemporary, even prophetic work. Throughout, Berberian virtuosically changes her vocal colors to suit the music and the text. In the French "Rossignolet du bois," she becomes a young girl on the edge of first love. In the Italian "A la feminisca," she becomes possessed by Spanish duende. In a second song from Canteloube, where Berio essentially translates Canteloube's orchestra to chamber proportions, "Malurous qu'o uno fenno" (roughly, "Women! Ya can't live with 'em, ya can't live without 'em"), Berberian manages to dance through sass, cynicism, and merriment. One of the finest performances by a singer who routinely turned out great ones.

The disc ends with three songs by Kurt Weill, two of them classics: "Ballad von der sexuellen Hörigkeit" (ballad of sexual dependency) from Die Dreigroschenoper, "Le grand Lustucru" (Lustucru the Great) from Marie Galante, and "Surabaya Johnny" from Happy End. Berio, for some reason, orchestrated these. After all, Weill, a master of instrumental color, orchestrated them himself. Berio differs from Weill, essentially offering up more wholesome timbres than the originals. I prefer Weill's sourer sound, reeking of spilled whiskey, urinal cakes, and stale cigarettes. Berberian sings both German items in English, translating them herself. She provides credible lyrics. I prefer Blitzstein's version of the "Ballad," but at least Berberian avoids the trap academic translators fall into, essentially so concerned with literal meaning that they forget Brecht's zip and wit. Again, these tracks' reason for being comes down to Berberian's performance. She has carved out her own niche with these songs, apart from Lotte Lenya, Gisela May, and the lesser Ute Lemper. For one thing, she sings them without the throaty rasp. However, what puts her in the exalted company of Lenya and May is once again the fact that she is such a splendid singing actress.


1. Recital I For Cathy: Se I Languidi Miei Sguardi (Monteverdi)
2. Recital I For Cathy: Amor, Dov'e La Fe (Monteverdi)
3. Recital I For Cathy: 'Ah! He Hadn't Been There Before...'
4. Recital I For Cathy: 'Clarinet That's The Sound That Has Been Haunting Me...'
5. Recital I For Cathy: Avendo Gran Desio (Berio-Da-Lentini)
6. Recital I For Cathy: 'Who Hasn't Taken A Piece Out Of My Life?'
7. Recital I For Cathy: Musician Exchange: 'These 5 Men...'
8. Recital I For Cathy: Exc: Mahler, Delibes, Rossini, Etc
9. Recital I For Cathy: Calmo E Lontano: 'Libera Nos'
10. Folk Songs: Black Is The Colour...
11. Folk Songs: I Wonder As I Wander...
12. Folk Songs: Loosin Yelav...
13. Folk Songs: Rossignolet Du Bois
14. Folk Songs: A La Femminisca
15. Folk Songs: La Donna Ideale
16. Folk Songs: Ballo
17. Folk Songs: Motettu De Tristura
18. Folk Songs: Malurous Qu' O Uno Fenno
19. Folk Songs: Lo Fiolaire
20. Folk Songs: Azerbaijan Love Song
21. Song Of Sexual Slavery
22. Le Grand Lustucru
23. Surabaya Johnny

"Recital 1 For Cathy" was composed in 1971 and ecorded on September 19-25, 1972 in EMI Studios, London.
"Folk Song"s (composed in 1964) and "3 Songs by Kurt Weill" were recorded on December 21 & 23, 1968, in Webster Hall, New York City.

Luciano Berio / Cathy Berberian - Reictal I for Cathy / Folk Songs /Three Songs by Kurt Weill
(192 kbps, cover art inlcuded)