Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Ave Maria [5:37]
Laudi alla Vergine Maria [5:52]
Giacinto SCELSI (1905-1988)
Yliam [6:50]
Giuseppe VERDI
Pater noster [6:55]
Luigi NONO (1924-1990)
Sarà dolce tacere [7:26]
Ildebrando PIZZETTI (1880-1968)
Tre composizioni corali [19:45]
Cade la sera [3:31]
Ululate [6:10]
Recordare, Domine [10:04]
Giacinto SCELSI
T K R D G [11:23]
I [4:39]
II [2:44]
III [4:00]
Goffredo PETRASSI (1904-2003)
Nonsense [7:37]: C’era una signorina [1:06] C’era un vecchio musicale [1:07] C’era un vecchio di Rovigo [2:46] C’era una signorina di Pozzillo [1:41] C’era una vecchia di Polla [0:57]
SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart/Marcus Creed
Soloists: Eva-Maria Schappé, Johanna Zimmer (soprano), Wiebke Wighardt, Judith Hilger (contralto); Kerstin Steube-König, Eva-Maria Schappé (soprano) Maria van Eldik, Ulrike Becker (contralto), Alexander Yudenkov, Julius Pfeifer (tenor), Torsten Müller, Mikhail Nikiforov (bass); Hubert Steiner (E-guitar), Boris Müller, Martin Homann, Adam Weisman (percussion)
rec. 2004-13, SWR Funkstudio Stuttgart; Villa Berg, Stuttgart;  Christuskirche
Sung texts with German and English translation enclosed
We are indeed lucky to have such plethora of great choirs in the UK, in Scandinavia and in central Europe. I have reviewed quite a few CDs the last couple of years and only recently I had reason to hail first the Salzburger Bachchor in a collection entitled Pater noster, then Kammerchor Hannover juxtaposing Johann Sebastian Bach and Sven-David Sandström. Here now is SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart with an Italian programme of primarily 20th century composers. The exception is Giuseppe Verdi, and his works are just a few years on the ‘wrong’ side of the previous turn of the century. These three compositions were also on the Salzburger Bachchor’s disc which invited comparison but not even at gunpoint would I be able to decide which of them is the better. Having been a Verdi-lover for all my grown-up life I came to his sacred choral music relatively late. Now it belongs among my desert island music. Both these choirs rub shoulders with a select company of other choral ensembles always available at arm’s length from my CD player.

I am not sure I will return that often to some of the other works on the disc. Professionally performed they certainly are but some are rather hard nuts to crack. Scelsi’s Yliam is one of those. Designed-I prefer that word to ‘composed’, since Scelsi didn’t regard himself as a composer-for women’s voices it is a heavily dissonant piece, wordless and with long screaming clusters. Verdi’s Pater noster came as balm to my injured eardrums and repeated attempts to digest the Scelsi piece were just as fruitless. To describe it as neutrally as possible it is like a carpet of clusters from which intense, aggressive cascades of other higher-lying clusters rise, fall down, rise again, fall down. I can’t deny that it is fascinating but ... horrible. The fault is no doubt mine rather than Scelsi’s but I can only report my reactions.

Luigi Nono’s Sarà dolce tacere is more structured and less aggressive. Here the voices sail more comfortably in a more harmonious sea but with frequent outbreaks of dissonant chords. This is no easy listen either but I have come to terms with it-reluctantly.

Ildebrando Pizzetti’s music is another matter. He was primarily an opera composer with more than twenty operas to his credit, best known probably for Assassinio nella cattedrale from 1958. He was also an avid choral composer. His Requiem from 1922-23 may be his masterpiece in that genre, it is also an a cappella composition, but the five-part compositions on this disc are also attractive. They are basically tonal and very beautiful. I have long had a Chandos recording (CHAN8964) of them with the Danish National Radio Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Stefan Parkman, coupled with the aforementioned Requiem. I brought out that disc for comparison and found a slightly more homogenous sound and at slightly faster tempos the Danish choir achieve greater urgency. The difference is marginal but the Chandos is also worth acquiring for the Requiem.
The other Scelsi composition, TKRDG, for male choir, electric guitar and percussion, is a rhythmic work, in particular the second movement. It makes fascinating sounds. There is no explanation as to what TKRDG stands for.

Petrassi’s Nonsense consists of five charming ditties in a modernized recreation of the old madrigal technique. The texts are Limerick-like and the last of them:
There was an old maid of Polla,
Who was horribly jammed in a crowd.
Some she slew with a kick,
Others she scrunched with a stick,
That impulsive old maid of Polla
is a true tour de force, bringing the disc to a jubilant end.

This a thrilling disc, covering Italian choral music from roughly the twentieth century. It is magnificently sung and should be an ideal ear-opener-but maybe also an ear-shutter for some-for those curious about this part of the repertoire.

Göran Forsling

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