Palumbo: Woven Lights / D'Orazio, Reynolds, London Symphony Orchestra

Regular price $17.99
Added to Cart! View cart or continue shopping.

The critically acclaimed Italian composer Vito Palumbo has had works performed all over the world by leading orchestras. He began his career with postmodern experimentation, going on to different forms of music theatre. In recent years Palumbo has focused on works for full orchestra, exploring the possibilities of colors and textures – sometimes with the help of electronics – and putting the concept of ‘historical memory’ at the centre of his own composing.

With echoes seemingly coming from Alban Berg’s violin concerto, Palumbo’s own Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (2015) displays bittersweet lyricism. Characterized by a dramatic language and driven by a strong and varied rhythmic impulse, the single-movement work also offers transitional moments of static beauty typical of the composer’s usual finesse in the scoring. With its title echoing the past, Chaconne for 5-string electric violin and electronics (2019-20) highlights the different ways in which the electronics intertwine with the live electric violin, within a conception animated by a strong theatrical sense, like a script for a play that does not reject emotional gestures. About this work, the composer has remarked ‘I want the meaning of my music to be apparent from listening, without the need for verbal justification.’ Both works are championed by the violinist Francesco D’Orazio, a close collaborator of the composer and the dedicatee of the Chaconne.


Cast in a single movement of around 30 minutes, the Violin Concerto (2015) starts out with sepulchral stirrings that gradually open out texturally and dynamically on to an evocative backdrop for the soloist to pursue a mainly lyrical and often imaginative discourse. While the violin is very much first among equals across what unfolds, its contribution stands out owing to the fastidiousness of Palumbo’s orchestration; notably during those later stages (of a piece in several arclike sections) when other instruments come briefly if tellingly to the fore to extend the music’s expressive remit. A final and evidently defining climax precedes its dying down towards the musing and even mystical serenity with which this work closes.

Francesco D’Orazio is the assured soloist both here and in Chaconne (2019-20), its scoring with electronics testament to the scrupulousness by which Palumbo approaches the medium. In the initial ‘Woven Lights’, a five-string electric violin is heard in the context of sampled sounds whose gestural immediacy decreases as these are drawn into a sonic continuum as unpredictable as it is imaginative. A long and often plangent cadenza makes way for ‘The Glows in the Dark’, the violin now surrounded by 30 pre-recorded variants of itself as this music assumes a rarefied while also capricious quality typified by tangible weightlessness.

Francesco Abbrescia has realised the electronics with audible sensitivity, and the London Symphony Orchestra respond with equal finesse to the astute conducting of Lee Reynolds. Warmly recommended[.]

-- Gramophone

Palumbo himself has mentioned Berg’s 1935 Violin Concerto as an inspiration for his own concerto of 2015, and connections are clear in the more recent piece’s sumptuous harmonies and deep lyricism (a wonder-filled section near the end even sounds uncannily like a John Williams movie score). There’s a sense of ever-expanding melody that soloist Francesco D’Orazio captures excellently in his warm, generous playing, with an expressive, finely controlled vibrato and abundant character across the rhapsodic writing; the London Symphony Orchestra provides spirited support under Lee Reynolds.

D’Orazio swaps his Guarneri for a five-string electric fiddle in Palumbo’s two-movement Chaconne, which first pits the soloist against a shimmering electronic backdrop, and later against 30 mirror images of himself. It’s a volatile, sometimes elusive piece that blends fantasy and sonic adventurousness, and D’Orazio responds with far harder-edged, sometimes astringent playing that stands out beautifully against the composer’s washes of sound. The massed, high-pitched violins set microtonally apart in the Chaconne’s second movement make for a rather headache-inducing, if impressive, sonic texture, but it’s the piece’s uneasy relationship with more traditional tonality and playing, and its joyful celebration of the wild unpredictability of sound that make it particularly striking. Recorded sound is close, warm and clear throughout.

-- The Strad

Of the two scores the first is a Concerto for violin and orchestra. This is in a single-tracked 30-minute movement. A solution of tense foreboding and beetling catastrophe are the order of the day. The violin evokes thoughts of Ifrits rising like evocations of flame and driven upwards by superheated thermals. Palumbo embraces some ferociously stropped violent dissonance but weaves in a romantic style: Walton/Berg. It is as if a sky-soaring Ariel is gripped by a mystical pilgrimage. There are moments of appeasing calm (8.40), hesitant wispy writing deep in the undergrowth (18.11). Pizzicati and precipitous slides recall Hovhaness with the solo instrument slipping frictionless and free. (28.00). All ends in silence. This work will appeal to those who warm to the Violin Concerto by Missy Mazzoli – also on BIS.

A change of instrumental cams and gears comes with the other work: a Chaconne for five-stringed electric violin and electronics (2019–20). There’s no orchestra this time. The music is in two substantial movements: Woven Lights and The Glows in the Dark. The first of these has the soloist juxtaposed with sampled sounds and electronics. The second has D’Orazio’s solo plus 30 pre-recorded electric violin parts. Like the more conventionally scored Concerto this work is intricate and delicate: a jangling and twangling Prospero’s Island. It’s another impressively virtuoso piece – a thing of wonder.

As is BIS’s practice these days, the CD comes with a supportive essay and other written material. It’s all in a cleverly contrived card sleeve.

-- MusicWeb International

The year 2023 has served contemporary music rather well on record. Among its many highlights, Vito Palumbo’s new album Woven Lights burns bright indeed. Coming five years after the composer’s first BIS Records release, the second volume brings together two notable scores focusing on the violin – in its acoustic and electric raiments – featuring Francesco D’Orazio as soloist.

The album opens with Palumbo’s thirty-one-minute Violin Concerto (2015) in one movement, followed by the twenty-seven minute Chaconne (2019–20) for electric violin (five strings) and electronics. Cast in two movements – which can also be performed separately – the latter features sampled sounds, electronic soundscapes devised by Francesco Abbrescia and up to thirty pre-recorded electric violin parts.

Documented on microphones at Abbey Road Studio 1, London on 17 September 2016, with D’Orazio joined by the London Symphony Orchestra under Lee Reynolds, the Violin Concerto is given an immersive workout on the new album. Although conceived as extended monolith, one hears traces of more traditional concerto scheme embedded within its awe-inspiring arch. Scored for solo violin and [orchestra], the violin concerto is awash with formidable instrumental writing, giving rise to an enthralling sequence of soundscapes.

Emerging from nowhere, the music begins to take shape in various orchestral noises; tam-tam pulses, low drones, Tibetan bowls and ascending vibraphone patterns. Out of the string fabric, violent orchestral pulses are drawn as the introduction draws to its close, paving the way for the solo violin to enter the soundstage. Accompanied by glockenspiel and strings, soon joined by woodwinds, the soloist begins to unfold an endless melody – to put it in Birtwistlesque terms – colorized by muted brass. This leads to rousingly kinetic section with virtuoso violin figurations and percussive orchestral interjections, contrasted some pages later by cloud-like arpeggios.

Cooling down, the concerto flows into its meditative central section of dazzling color, where the soloist’s candle-lit musings are echoed by translucent orchestral chiaroscuro. Here, Palumbo draws some astounding textures from the solo instrument and the symphonic ensemble alike. However, the music does not linger. Jagged soundscapes re-emerge some four minutes later in a passage of splendid unrest. This, in turn, leads to astounding near-stasis of utmost sonorous focus. Almost imperceptibly, the textures grow increasingly volatile, channeling all their repressed energy into an inevitable burst of instrumental electricity. Out of the rumors, a shadowy section remains, marked by loose melodic threads hanging mid-air between the orchestral instruments and the solo violin – a high-point in the concerto’s musical subtlety.

Rippling figurations mark the transition into a toccata-like tour-de-force passage, featuring hyper-kinetic instrumental singing from the soloist, answered by fluid orchestral propulsion. Cooling down to a riveting hall of mirrors, characterized by slowly-rotating melodic arches and dream-like woodwind pulses, the music crossed the threshold back to the surreal realm from whence it first emerged. Transformed by its journey, the concerto fades into tangible silence.

Given in dream-of-a-performance by D’Orazio and the LSO with Reynolds, the Violin Concerto is served with full spectrum of timbral nuance. Unraveled in ever beautifully aligned layers, the interplay between the soloist and the orchestra comes off admirably throughout the entire musical quest. Embraced with absolute control over the musical narrative, D’Orazio’s take on the solo part is nothing short of remarkable. Peerless in their studio work, the members of the LSO deliver a wonderful take on the orchestral score. Guided by Reynold’s attentive podium sensibilities, the musical discussion between the LSO and their soloist are always spot-on, their sonorous clarity being enhanced by sensitive engineering and post-production.

A concerto for the focused listener, Palumbo’s score keeps unlocking its sonorous secrets in the course of repeated iterations, lending itself marvelously even to the most zealous close examination.

The title track of the album, the eighteen-minute Woven Lights first movement of the Chaconne seems to stem from some realm interrelated – somewhat – to the pensive central sections of the Violin Concerto. An ever-permuting interplay between the fully written-out electric violin part and its real-time computer-processed echoes, interwoven with sampled sounds of glass and metal, the movement is perhaps best described as the musical equivalent of northern lights – if one is to resort into simple analogies. Sonorous aurora of gorgeous blues and greens, the tapestries of Woven Lights call forth a plethora of associations related to time and space, yielding to transformative listening experience.

Bridged with a cadential passage, the music is carried over into The Glows in the Dark second movement. An intricate web of live and pre-recorded parts, the eight-minute soundscape gazes into the open space and nebulae beyond, zooming in and out of musical cloud-formations resulting from multiples of the solo instrument. A quest into the unknown, aural apparitions travel across the resulting contrapuntal network, to a dazzling effect. Disappearing beyond our scopes, the music dissolves into interstellar space, calling forth the listener’s mental theater to complete its narrative.

A superlative rendition from D’Orazio and Abbrescia, the fused creativity of solo instrumental performance and its electronic reimaginations yields to veritable sonic discovery, exploring strange new worlds through shared musical ritual. Fabulously realized on the new album, the Chaconne is a milestone score.

-- Adventures in Music

Product Description:

  • Release Date: January 06, 2023

  • Catalog Number: BIS-2625

  • UPC: 7318590026250

  • Label: BIS

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Period: Contemporary

  • Composer: Vito Palumbo

  • Conductor: Lee Reynolds

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: London Symphony Orchestra

  • Performer: Francesco D'Orazio, Francesco Abbrescia