Groslot’s “Matrix in Persian Blue” Released

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GROSLET: Ce lac due oublié que hante sous le givre…* Le bel aujourd’hui.+ Matrix in Persian Blue / Asasello Quartet; *Jan Michiels, pno; +Liesbeth Devos, sop / Tyxart TXA 19123

The music of Belgian composer Robert Groslot is haunting in its quality yet modern in its language. His music leans ever-so-slightly in the direction of tonality while never quite arriving there, and in these remarkable chamber works for string quartet with piano or vocalist one is immediately captivated by the sounds he creates. It is almost like the work of a modern Debussy: well structured yet using opaque textures, with a bit of an edge to the sound like the music of Honegger or Françaix.

The opening work on this CD, a nearly 25-minute piece for piano quintet, employs a variety of devices including portamento slides for the violins yet never becomes cluttered or overly busy. Groslot is apparently uninterested in writing music merely for effect; every note of his works means something and adds to the whole. In this piece there is a pizzicato section for the strings that oddly resembles, but does not duplicate, the style of Marius Constant, but again these devices are used in the service of an excellent musical mind that creates structures that are complex but never cluttered.

Yet in many ways Groslot’s music is difficult to describe because a mere litany of the technical devices used do not give the reader an impression of the actual music. It must be heard to be fully felt and understood, and it is to their credit that the very talented Asasello Quartet fully enter the spirit of the music as well as the notes.

The song cycle Le bel aujourd’hui is based on four poems by Stéphane Mallarmé, the words of which are unfortunately not given in the booklet either in French or English. I had to look them up on Emily Ezust’s LiederNet Archive. Soprano Liesbeth Devos has a high voice that unfortunately tends towards a shrill, wiry sound up top, but her singing is expressive and her diction excellent. Here, again, the Debussy comparison is apt, with grateful vocal lines and a little more of a tendency towards tonality to help ground the singer. Groslot also uses the string quartet here more as individual instruments than playing together as a unit; each instrument in the quartet gets his or her own line to play, only occasionally using the two violins together in harmony while the cello plays a fairly consistent pizzicato counterpoint to the proceedings. In the last song, Le vierge, the vocal line leans more towards the atonal and the first violin sustains very high, bright tones while the others play delicate counterpoint, often in moving pizzicato lines.

Groslot’s only (so far) work for string quartet alone is built along the same lines as the preceding works: bitonal leaning towards atonal, with bouncing counterpoint and using the quartet members individually rather than together. And once again, there is a lot of pizzicato and fast-moving bass lines played by the cello. The first violin also gets a soaring, long-note solo. Disparate parts, but somehow all fitting together to make a cohesive whole. In this work, particularly, Groslot leaves the Debussy model behind. Eventually, the polyphonic complexity grows to a point where one is caught up in its web. The second movement (there are only two) begins, unusually, with the quartet playing together, but they soon separate and toy with one another. A most interesting and unusual piece, which ends with a series of rapid-moving figures.

This is surely one of the most interesting and unusual set of pieces I’ve heart in a long time!

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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