Le Poème Harmonique
Direction Vincent Dumestre
Claire Lefilliâtre (dessus)
Bruno Le Levreur (haute-contre)
Jean-François Novelli (taille)
Arnaud Marzorati (basse-contre)
Kaori Uemura (dessus de viole) Sylvie Moquet (dessus de viole)
Sylvia Abramowicz (basse de viole) Anne-Marie Lasla (basse de viole)
Françoise Enock (violone) Joël Grare (percussions)
Massimo Moscardo (archiluth guitare baroque)
Benjamin Perrot (luth théorbe)
Vincent Dumestre (guitare baroque théorbe)
This disc is part of a superb series from France’s Alpha label, mostly covering early Baroque repertory, that offers handsome packaging bearing an artwork contemporary with the music on the disc, shown both complete and in detail. The painting of Bacchus and Ariadne shown here is attributed to Louis Le Nain, one of those artists you may have sprinted past in the Louvre on your way to see the Mona Lisa. After reading the informative essay here, however, you’ll take more time in that gallery on your next visit. The music on the disc, as with many recordings in this series, is even less well known; the composer of most of it, Antoine Boësset (1587-1643), is not even mentioned in music history texts. He was a composer of airs de cour, court airs, for Louis XIII, and that entire genre will be new to most non-French listeners.
On the evidence here, it’s a treasure trove. Boësset’s pieces are songs for a solo voice or a small group, accompanied by viols and lutes. They are lightly polyphonic at most, and they show the influence of Italian opera — but it is only an accent, not the meat of the music. A few pieces are in Italian and a few in Spanish, another fashion of the day. The texts are mostly little pastoral scenes or odes to feminine beauty, aimed at exquisite exploration of a specific affect rather than at dramatic impact. There are also texted interludes from the ballet de cour and works from Boësset’s contemporaries that fill out the picture of his place and time. One sacred song, Ô Dieu, is included and placed near the end, seemingly as a check on all the frivolity; it is especially lovely, as is the title track of the album, Je meurs sans mourir (I die without dying). There are also some instrumental interludes from dramatic works. The music is graceful, natural, and sensuous in the extreme.
The French ensemble Le Poème Harmonique gives gentle, highly evocative performances of these works, but the real highlight, perhaps, is the booklet, which weighs in at 56 pages (half English, half French). Along with the essay on Le Nain’s painting is a complete introduction to Boësset and his world. It may be tough going for the casual reader, and it takes some work to find the commentary pertaining to a specific piece if you’re just thumbing through, but it offers deep context for this music and brings it fully alive even though it’s completely unfamiliar. The only complaints are that, for all the care obviously lavished on the booklet, two of the pieces, numbers 14 and 15, are reversed in the track listing from how they actually appear on disc (the ordering in the track listing would have been better), and that in one of the excerpts from stage works, track 11, the group makes a questionable decision to interpolate part of another work that doesn’t really fit. This album is strongly recommended for lovers of the French Baroque, and indeed for anyone who has walked slowly through the Louvre and wondered about the culture of Louis XIII and his era. You could take a course at your local university, or you could just fork over the cost of this one CD.
— by James Manheim [allmusic.com]
Musical settings of the requiem may be very public (Berlioz’s, for example), or almost painfully private. Valentin Silvestrov’s Requiem for Larissa falls into the latter category. Larissa was the composer’s wife, the musicologist Larissa Bondarenko, who died unexpectedly in 1996. Silvestrov responded to her death with this requiem, believing (like Mozart) that it would be the last music he would write. Fortunately for us, Silvestrov was able to go on living, and he completed his most recent symphony in 2003.
Silvestrov has received acclaim in the West for his Symphony #5, a work that seems to exist in a place and time after all music has come to an end. While some composers have excelled at writing preludes, Silvestrov has become the master of the postlude. These are not the crystal-clear codas of Romantic symphonies, however. Silvestrov’s music is usually in the process of fading into nothing, but never quite getting there. Clarity and purpose are replaced with obscurity and a sense of wandering. Romantic music is alluded to, but never achieved. It is as if Silvestrov is using the expected words, but not stringing them together in the expected sequence. In this music, purpose and direction are tenuous, at best. In Silvestrov’s Requiem, composers as disparate as Mozart and Webern flit in and out of the textures… not as musical quotations, though, but as feelings, or as ghosts unable to find their final rest.
In Requiem for Larissa, Silvestrov disorients the listener even more by fragmenting the familiar Latin texts. The choir stops in the middle of a phrase as if it has forgotten what it is trying to say, or as if what it is trying to say is too painful to complete. Perhaps it is telling that the most coherent setting is that of the Lacrimosa. In the score’s fourth section, the composer interpolates a text from a poem called “The Dream,” written by the 19th-century Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko. Both of these sections feature solo voices – a soprano in the Lacrimosa and a tenor in the Shevchenko setting. Elsewhere, the chorus bears the brunt of the vocal demands.
Most of the Requiem for Larissa is quiet, even pretty, but there are thundering climaxes which appear and disappear with little preparation or warning. At the end, there is no salvation, let alone comfort or resolution. Silvestrov’s goal, it seems, is not to resolve matters, but to let us know that closure, if it is possible at all, is painfully elusive. Although Requiem for Larissa was written at a time of crisis in the composer’s life, it seems very typical of his work, and it is a good recommendation for those coming to this composer for the first time, and for those who are beguiled by his Symphony #5.
The recording sessions took place in Kiev in 2001, and the performance probably is definitive. The singing of the National Choir of Ukraine, called “Dumka,” is outstanding. It is unfortunate that the soloists are not identified; it seems likely that they are members of the choir.
Copyright © 2004, Raymond Tuttle