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Luigi Nono, Prometeo: Tragedia dell’ascolto


Petra Hoffmann, Monika Bair-Ivenz, Susanne Otto, Noa Frenkel, Hubert Mayer – singers

Sigrun Schell, Gregor Dalal – speakers

Solistenchor Freiburg

ensemble recherche

Solistenensemble des Philharmonischen Orchesters Freiburg

Solistenensemble des SWR Sinfonieorchesters Baden-Baden und Freiburg

Experimentalstudio der Heinrich-Strobel-Stiftung des SWR, Freiburg, dir. André Richard – electronics

Peter Hirsch, Kwamé Ryan – conductors


Col legno 2SACD 20605 [Includes booklet with texts by André Richard, Lydia Jescke, Peter Hirsch and Dorothee Schabert, and listening score by Klaus Pauler]



Prometeo is an immense extravagance. So much of the work’s success depends upon its spatial projection inside a large hall and the theatre created by constellations of performers that it may be foolish even attempting to capture it on disc.

Col legno have, however, attempted a rapprochement with Nono’s lavish production. As with other recent releases, Prometeo has been released on hybrid SACD, allowing for full surround-sound listening (if you have the facilities)* . The recording is also supported by two thick booklets: one containing extensive sleevenotes, the other a ‘listening score’. This is a generously packaged recording. Unfortunately I don’t have a surround-sound hi-fi, or the technology to get the most out of SACD quality sound. So I will note only that although the spatial effects are inevitably compromised on a standard hi-fi, the recording quality is still extremely good.

With all these caveats in place, how is this Prometeo for the home listener? To their credit, col legno have anticipated the problems inherent in the project and, through that sumptuous documentation, created a different, but equally vivid, projection of the piece through its text. The second CD booklet presents the original libretto for Prometeo, composed for Nono by Massimo Cacciari, additional sources that Nono incorporated and, finally, a ‘listening score’, in which the entire work is mapped out, syllable by syllable, with respect to CD timings and vocal part. This latter deftly guides the listener through the piece, clarifying layers of intertextuality and large-scale structural relationships across the piece.

The narrative motors of the story – its characters, settings and dramatic set pieces – emerge more strongly than is possible in a purely aural setting. Most surprising are the relations between text and music, with musical form frequently delineated by Nono’s switch from one text source to another. Although these reveals show us much of Nono’s stagecraft, at the same time they show additional depths to the music that would otherwise be hard to penetrate: the dialogue between Io and Prometheus in ‘Island 2’, or the intertwined stanzas of Cacciari’s Master of the Game in ‘3 Voices (b)’, for example.

Nono preferred to keep much of what he composed obscure, even entirely hidden, from the listener. The instances – found in Prometeo, and other late works such as Fragmente-Stille – of texts written in the score, alongside instructions that they should never be read aloud, are an extreme example of the almost mystical power Nono invested in the ability of music to effect communication between the composer’s notation and the listener. Knowing that there is such detail in this music – and at the same time knowing that much of it will remain unattainable – is part of what gives Nono’s music its vitality. The gift of this col legno production is that, even with many of these details exposed, it shows how much remains to explore.

Tim Rutherford-Johnson

See also: Prometeo live - May 2008 and * exploring SACD [Editor]