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Luca Francesconi

Da Capo for nine instruments.
A fuoco, 4° studio sulla memoria for guitar and ensemble.
Animus for trombone and electronics.
Etymo for soprano, electronics and ensemble.

Pablo Márquez (guitar)
Benny Sluchin (trombone)
Barbara Hannigan (soprano)
Ensemble Intercontemporain/Susanna Mälkki

Kairos 001271KAI

This CD has given me problems. After two playings my (very personal) conclusions are that the complexities of the music of Luca Francesconi (b. 1956) are well worth tackling, even for non-specialist listeners.

The first three works as listed above are continuous movements, each lasting 14 minutes. Da Capo, we are told, is built in a large "arch", with clarinet, flute, vibraphone and violin taking over its 'breath' sequentially, then the whole ensemble. It is intricate and seductive.

A fuoco features a guitar solo, with music of great understated virtuosity, its rapidity under a slower underlying pulse. It grew from a short passage which his then teacher Berio opined "That's not bad at all". Is that the excerpt illustrated in Kairos' insert booklet? We aren't told...

We are encouraged to regard A fuoco as "a metaphor of memory - sufficiently profound to portray a complex reality" (Colin Roche). It is expressed through a refined filigree of music which is well balanced in the recording; would the guitar come through so well in live performance, I am left wondering?

Animus leads from sounds of breathing through to full trombone rough and raucus timbres, duplicated and multiplied with electronic treatment - "continuing respiration on an instrument that becomes a metal lung". I thought it wonderful, as good as any of the works on the new bis Christian Lindberg portrait DVDs, with the lesser known Benny Sluchlin equally impressive in an instrument which has remained one of my favourites since my younger son was briefly a trombonist in the National Youth Orchestra...

The rub, and the problem with this release, comes with the words of the fourth work (placed first by Kairos), half an hour long and brought to us with pages of opaque verbiage by Roche and Robert Coheur.

Kairos is, I say with trepitude and regret, given to high-flown commentaries which, to an ordinary reader, go from the obscure to the meaningless, making us feel like outsiders from a cult. Yet, I hasten to assure you, Francesconi's instrumental music, with or without electronic treatment, is fascinating and not to be passed by.

Etymo for soprano solo, electronics and ensemble brings together all my concerns. We are provided with the sung text trilingually, but the stapled-in booklet is far from reader friendly; the several translations are far apart, so that one cannot look at the words in the sung language alongside one's own. It took me many minutes to confirm that Barbara Hannigan was singing in French... Nor could I locate and follow her words until the very last, spoken, section.

I desist from attempting to review Etymo and its performance...

Another review from a better informed reader would be greatly welcomed.

Meanwhile, for those not put off by the links with which I increasingly pepper our reports (is pepper an irritant, or a flavouring accompaniment?), searching the web has discovered that there is a free sampler from Kairos, given away with Accents : la revue de l'Ensemble intercontemporain (No. 35, April-July 2008), consisting of excerpts from this controversial Etymo, coupled with some of Bruno Mantovani's new CD, strongly recommended in these pages.

Peter Grahame Woolf