SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

“Stories” = Works of BERIO; JOHN CAGE; JACKSON MAC LOW; ROGER MARSH; SHELDON FRANK; CATHY BERBERIAN – Theatre of Voices/ Paul Hillier – Harmonia mundi

Interesting, unusual, and often mesmerizing. But is any of it even music?

Published on August 26, 2011

“Stories” = LUCIANO BERIO: A Ronne; JOHN CAGE: Story; JACKSON MAC LOW: Young Turtle Asymmetries; ROGER MARSH: Not a Soul but Ourselves; SHELDON FRANK: As I was Saying; CATHY BERBERIAN: Stripsody – Theatre of Voices/ Paul Hillier, conductor – Harmonia mundi multichannel SACD 807527, 66:40 ***:

I wanted to like this album far more than I did. Paul Hillier and any group he conducts always give us thought-provoking and often esoteric music that is well worth adding to anyone’s listening repertory, and I just knew this was going to be another one of those albums.
Wrong.

I am quite sure that some people somewhere will find this valuable, as the performances are stellar, and the sound is just spectacular, surround sound personified. And many would kill for a version of Berberian’s Stripsody, so called because it takes stories from comic strips as its base, and then explores certain sounds found in the words as its structural center, even though this particular performance is done with an ensemble instead of a solo soprano. But truth be told, aside from the cultural and hagiographical overtones to the piece, it really isn’t worth much, and I don’t really enjoy hearing it.

Most of the pieces on this disc take their cue from the Cage Story, with the exception of the typically collage-like Berio work A-Ronne which includes the beginning of the Gospel of St. John, along with verses from T.S. Eliot and Dante. If you like the now-famous Sinfonia, you very well might like this also. But the Cage work is the most creative and interesting, repeating the words “Once upon a time the world was round and you could go on it around and around”, with various permutations on the possible rhythmic patterns. It is intriguing, as are the other pieces on this disc, but I must say that I am not at all convinced that any of it even qualifies as music; let me correct myself—it isn’t music. It might be what we have now come to know as performance art of some kind, and even seems more akin to naked rap (which I also don’t consider music per se), but those expecting musical sounds apart from accidental acclimations to general speech-tones will be disappointed. Those who like experimental avant-garde vocalizations will most likely be all-too enamored of these superb performances, and like I said, the sound is simply stunning. All others be sure to sample first.

—Steven Ritter




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