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January 7, 2013

"La Lontananza Nostalgica Utopica Futura" — Miranda Cuckson on violin (Christopher Burns on computer)

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Excerpts from Zachary Woolfe's story in today's New York Times follow.

The violinist Miranda Cuckson's outstanding recording of "La Lontananza Nostalgica Utopica Futura," by the Italian avant-gardist Luigi Nono, was scheduled for release in the fall. But Hurricane Sandy had other ideas.

One of the final products of Nono's ceaselessly experimental career, "La Lontananza" veers from ethereal near-silence to jagged eruptions. It puts Ms. Cuckson in a series of anxious, eerie confrontations with previously taped material that is manipulated by the composer Christopher Burns, who responds to the violinist in real time by highlighting certain tracks and suppressing others.

The tapes feature snippets of improvisation by the violinist Gidon Kremer, who gave the work’s premiere in 1988, and a range of noises from the recording studio, including murmurs of conversation and a haunting burst of laughter.

Adding another level of complexity, Nono intended the violinist, who seems to represent a wandering figure in the abstract drama of the piece, to travel to different locations around the performance space for each of the six sections. Mr. Burns produced the album with the composer and sound designer Richard Warp, and using five-channel surround-sound technology they were able to create, for the first time, a recorded analogue of this spatial element. (The two-disc release features one version in surround sound and one in normal stereo.)

The production is remarkable in another important respect. Nono's indications of dynamics — the loudness and softness of the music — are extreme; his score calls for levels of quiet as intense as "ppppppppp," nine degrees of softness. On recordings, dynamics often disappoint. A degree of compression is part of the process, bringing loud and soft closer together and creating a generally blander experience.

But as an audience member remarked on Friday, the dynamics on the powerful, strikingly raw new recording may be even more vivid than their live counterparts. Ms. Cuckson and Mr. Burns performed two sections of the work live, then listened along with the audience to two other sections from the recording, and both felt differently essential.

The live performance [top] benefited from Ms. Cuckson's vulnerable yet vibrant physical presence, including some faint, melancholy vocalizations as she played, a part of Nono's score apparently overlooked or ignored by previous interpreters. When the album played, the colors were even brighter: crackling and hyper-real. You have to hope that Ms. Cuckson and Mr. Burns will continue to perform "La Lontananza," but in the meantime their thoughtful, thrilling recording does the work full justice.

Buy the CDs directly from Miranda Cuckson here (how cool is that?).

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You can purchase downloads here.

January 7, 2013 at 08:01 PM | Permalink


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