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Andriessen: La Commedia McFadden/Zavalloni/ Willems/Beckman/ Dutch National Opera/ Asko Schonberg Ensemble/De Leeuw NONESUCH, TWO CDs AND DVD 32/40 Louis Andriessen's most recent large-scale music theatre work was first performed by the Dutch National Opera in Amsterdam in 2009. He calls La Commedia "a film opera in five parts", for like the his stage works, Rosa (1995) and Writing to Vermeer (1999), which were collaborations with Peter Greenaway, he composed it with the film-maker Hal Hartley.

July 4, 2014

Andrew Clements

As the title signals, La Commedia is based on Dante, though by no means as a linear distillation of The Divine Comedy. It's more a series of reflections, five tableaux, dramatic cantatas almost, focusing on episodes, including the City of Dis, a portrait of Lucifer, the Garden of Earthly Delights and a final Luce Etterna. The text combines passages from the original, with extracts from the Old Testament and biblical plays by the 17th-century Dutch writer Joos van den Vondel.

The tone is wonderfully varied - at times profoundly serious, then wildly exuberant or irreverent - matched to a score that is equally diverse and eclectic. As always with Andriessen's orchestras, woodwind and brass outmuscle the strings, while piano and cimbalom give extra bite to the sonorities; there are winding Stravinskian chorales, intimidating chordal progressions and slithering ostinatos, as well as allusions to three centuries of composers from Bach onwards, while the Garden of Earthly Delights veers between jazz and an Italian folk ballad, before ending up in tongue-in-cheek Hollywood schmaltz.

The performance with Reinbert de Leeuw conducting the combined Asko and Schonberg ensembles is superb: Dante's narrations are given to a mezzo, the fabulously versatile Cristina Zavalloni; Beatrice is a soprano, the fearless Claron McFadden, and the monologue by Dante's great-great grandfather Cacciaguida in the final tableau is turned into a Dutch rap delivered by the late Jeroen Willems. They leave no doubt that La Commedia is a rich, important achievement by one of Europe's greatest living composers.


One of Europe's greatest living composers . . . Louis Andriessen; (below) Olga Stezhko

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Source: Guardian (UK)

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