Peter Eötvös conducts the Göteborgs Symphoniker and London Voices
Riccardo Chailly conducts the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi(Decca)
Most living composers make it tough to figure out what they think of their predecessors. Interviews and public appearances often turn up the usual odes to Bach, but what really interests composers about the music of bygone eras often remains unheard. Not in the case of Luciano Berio, who rewrote many dead composers' works before he joined their ranks in 2003.
That relationship with the past is made no more clear than in his Sinfonia, which was written in 1968 when he was living in America, and was his response to the anything-goes ethos of the time. In that work's third movement, Berio takes the scherzo of Mahler's Second Symphony as his foundation and proceeds to scribble quotations from other symphonic works over it. Rite of Spring, Debussy's La Mer, Ravel's La Valse and a whole lot more find themselves cheek-to-cheek with Mahler.
But the stroke of genius was the inclusion of eight voices who chatter, sing, hum and otherwise comment on the goings-on. Where all this leads is anyone's guess, but their repeated instruction to "Keep going" remains the best advice on how to get through troubled times and troubling music.
Chailly's disc includes much more transparent transcriptions of Schubert, Purcell and Bach that show Berio in an even more loving mood. Rendering, Berio's completion of Schubert's unfinished Tenth Symphony, dissolves into a sonic haze whenever Schubert left holes, but that haze only piques the interest of what Franz could have put there. But listening to these discs proves that there was no haze in Berio's thinking.—Marc Geelhoed