Live from New York — Death and Transfiguration

Facing Death, Armed Only With Sound, Not Drama
The level of Luciano Berio’s music was still on the ascent when he died two years ago at 77. “Stanze” – five poems for solo voice, chorus and orchestra – were his last pieces, and they shine with poise and quiet confidence. We are reminded that the possibilities of instrumental combinations are far from exhausted. The Philadelphia Orchestra under Christoph Eschenbach introduced New York to “Stanze” at Carnegie Hall on Tuesday night, adding Act III from Wagner’s “Parsifal” in concert form.
Paul Celan’s “Tenebrae,” the first poem, is accompanied by drifting, attenuated chords of extraordinary beauty. If Berio’s music moves slowly, or sometimes not at all, there is activity within: textures swelling and contracting like lungs, woodwind colors swimming and undulating. So striking are the sounds that high drama is unnecessary.
Death and the approaching appointment with one’s maker dominate these poems. If Celan is dark and supplicating, Giorgio Caproni’s offering here is a sly and wistful metaphor of one man’s descent from a crowded train. The music is colored by small flutters and shrieks; the chorus sings in almost conversational fragments and spurts.
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