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Luigi Nono - Prometeo, Tragedia dell'ascolto Hybrid SACD, SACD

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Product details

  • Audio CD (7 Jan 2008)
  • Please Note: Requires SACD-compatible hardware
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Format: Hybrid SACD, SACD
  • Label: Col Legno
  • ASIN: B000VKW79G
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 105,507 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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11 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Ivar de Vries on 1 May 2008
Both the composition and the recording of this "tragedy of listening" took some years to complete. Luigi Nono kept rewriting large parts before and after the 1984 premiere and worked extensively with many of the people that participated on this recording and surround mix of Prometeo. It is based largely on a text by Massimo Cacciari that concerns the basics of human culture and consequently contains a lot of quotes from ancient Greek mythology, like those concerning Prometeo, a pivotal figure in freeing humans from the Gods and sparking off their culture.
The music is generally very quiet and austere, long airy phrases on the instruments occasionally mixed with parts of the texts, with most syllables lasting several moments. Sometimes the music accompanies words that are supposed to be just present in the minds of the performers. Here and elsewhere the fine listening score really helps out to make sense of the large array of personae taking part, singing texts in multiple languages. The music has a kind of slow glacial beauty to it but it all sounds very distant so it takes some effort to figure out its dynamics and form which, considering the large number of performers involved, is actually quite uncomplicated.
In all Prometeo is a rather abstruse piece far removed from any daily concerns (which can be a good thing of course), finally the impression one might get is that of a bunch of mad monks wandering around their monastery at the end of times being engaged in unimaginable pursuits.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 1 review
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Sacred electro-acoustic choral music for an inward journey 29 Jun 2012
By Autonomeus - Published on Amazon.com
PROMETEO, Tragedia dell'ascolto (1981/1985)
for singers, speakers, chorus, solo strings, solo winds, glasses, orchestral groups, and live electronics
Arrangement of texts by Massimo Cacciari

Luigi Nono (1924-1990) had been a central figure in the Darmstadt Movement of the 1950s, developing serialism as an extension of the Second Vienna School along with Boulez and Stockhausen. Nono was not only a musical radical, but a political radical as well, joining the Italian Communist Party (PCI) in 1952, and later becoming one of its leaders. His music of the 1960s and into the 1970s expressed that fused vision of aesthetic, political and social revolution.

Then, beginning in 1980, he turned inward. It is no coincidence that this corresponded to the global capitalist offensive known as neoliberalism (Thatcherism, Reaganism) and the retreat of the Left. Nono at this point was heavily influenced by the philosopher Massimo Cacciari (who later become mayor of Venice), and through Cacciari, Walter Benjamin. PROMETEO is the major achievement of Nono's late period, a great electro-acoustic choral work that is basically a setting of the legend of Prometheus into Benjamin's essay "On the Concept of History," from which comes the well-known "Angel of History." Nono follows Benjamin in fusing humanist marxism with mystical spirituality, and produces epic sacred music.

Sprawling over two discs with nearly 70 minutes of music on each, PROMETEO's structure is very difficult for the ear to grasp. What one hears is sublimely beautiful choral voices, with periodic upwellings of instruments in vast, fierce tuttis, and a constant live electronic shimmer. The first disc is separated into four sections, while the second disc contains seven sections.

Listening without reference to the libretto, one is left with the impression of being in a cathedral. This is clearly sacred music, and that is perhaps its single most important defining characteristic. The best analysis of PROMETEO I have found is a superb essay by Stefan Beyst from 2003 called "Luigi Nono: il Prometeo, a revolutionary swansong" (easily retrieved online).

Beyst explains that "Nono enhances the natural clarity of the human voice through letting it sing on the most sonorous intervals -- octaves, fifths and fourths (or a concatenation of them). The effect is enhanced in that the tones are sustained for a long time, so that it seems as if the voice only sings vowels."

This is music that requires close listening to fully appreciate, because much of it is at a very low volume (Nono's markings extend all the way to pppppp!), and is full of very subtle gradations of tones from singers, musicians, and electronics. This is spatial music, and the recording, even in SACD sound, cannot fully reproduce the intended spatial effects of separate groups of singers and musicians with electronic projections in the live setting.

But if you also follow the text, the words of which are not actually spoken as intelligible words by the singers, you can follow the story -- a story which is not acted, this is not an opera, or even "scenic action" -- of Prometheus and Benjamin's "weak messianic power," which is all that is left after the collapse of the utopian revolutionary projects of the 20th century. The hero, which is all of us, as individuals, is "invincible in the desert." Beyst offers cogent reflections on Nono's tentative theology, following the Schoenberg of "Moses und Aron." This quietly powerful vision moves logically on, both musically and in terms of content, from Nono's great work of the previous decade Al gran sole carico d'amore (see my review).

The first recording was live at the Salzburger Festspiele 1993, and was released by EMI in 1995. The conductors were Ingo Metzmacher and Peter Rundel, leading the Ensemble Modern and the Solistenchor Freiburg. Andre Richard led the live electronics team of the Experimentalstudio der Heinrich-Strobel-Stiftung des SWR, Freiburg. The 128-page booklet includes several black-and-white photos, commentaries, and Cacciari's libretto in German, English and French.

The second recording was made ten years later by Col Legno in May 2003 at the Konzerthaus Freiburg. Andre Richard was the overall director. Peter Hirsch and Kwame Ryan led the Solistenchor Freiburg (again) and the musicians of the ensemble recherche, the Solistenensemble des SWR Sinfonieorchesters Baden-Baden und Frieburg, and the Solistenensemble des Philharmonischen Orchesters Freiburg. Once again, Andre Richard and the Experimentalstudio des SWR handled the live electronics. The 2007 Col Legno box includes both an 84-page booklet with photos and commentaries, as well as a 116-page "Listening Score," which is far more detailed than the EMI's libretto. In German, English and French, it provides the text as well as the exact syllables the singers sing, marked so the listener can follow along with the recording. Fantastic!

Neither box is much to look at. The EMI, which is now difficult to find, sounds fine, but the more recent Col Legno recording is state-of-the-art and is the one to have both for the sound quality and the superior Listening Score.

*** *** ***

No one has ever claimed that PROMETEO is easy listening. But it is an important expression of the late 20th Century avant-garde. I have struggled with it over the years, and my appreciation has deepened with time. I recommend it to anyone who loves beautiful choral writing, cutting edge electro-acoustic music, and certainly to anyone interested in the music of Luigi Nono.
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