Ensemble Bios is an Italian group led by conductor Andrea Vitello, dedicated to performing works of the 20th and 21st centuries. Their first outing for Italy’s Continuo label features “actress of the voice” Anna Clementi in Schoenberg’s 1912 song cycle Pierrot Lunaire.
Broken into three lots of seven (reflecting the composer’s obsession with numerology), it famously utilises Sprechstimme, a semi-spoken technique associated at the time with melodrama and to some extent Lieder and cabaret. Clementi’s delivery is deft, mocking and expressionistic, soaring and plunging while detailing Pierrot’s macabre exploits as the instrumentalists sensitively weave around her vocalisations. A century on, it still sounds thrillingly modern.
It’s paired here with a recent work by Florentine composer Andrea Portera (b. 1973), whose symphonic, theatrical and chamber works (over 120) have met with critical acclaim and two silver medals from the President of the Italian Republic. Red Music consists of three quite beautiful pieces for chamber ensemble, all just over four-minutes long, and dedicated to Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Rostropovich respectively. Each work subtly evokes the subject of its dedication – the frenetic dynamism of Prokofiev’s piano works, Shostakovich’s deeply unsettling strings, or the sound of
Rostropovich’s rich, expansive cello. It makes for an interesting juxtaposition.