First published in the Guardian on 23 November, 2017
Nono: Risonanze erranti
Ensemble Prometeo / SWR Experimental Studio (shiiin)
There is nowhere to hide in Risonanze erranti, a stunningly tough and confrontational vocal work from 1986 by the late Italian composer and political agitator Luigi Nono. This is music of silence and surprise, of cloak and dagger. Scored for the low-lit combination of contralto, bass flute, tuba, percussionists and live electronics, the texts (Herman Melville, Ingeborg Bachmann, snippets of renaissance polyphony) are drenched with implication but it’s the spaces that feel most ominous: violent outbursts made all the more alarming because of the emptiness around them. The voice shrieks and whispers and sometimes sneaks between the instrument as though seeking camaraderie. This performance from 2014 by the Nono specialists Prometeo Ensemble is ultra focused and pristine, and sung with immense gravitas by contralto Katarzyna Otczyk. The disc also includes the original recording from 1987 and it’s fascinating to compare — the electronics sound dated, but Susanne Otto’s vocal gestures are as gripping as ever.