ESCHAICH: La Piste des Chants / Orchestre et Chœur Philharmonique de Radio France / Visions Nocturnes / unidentified mezzo; Jessica Bessac, cl; Sanja Bizjak, pno; Quatuor Ellipse / Cris / Laurent Gaudé, narr; Chœur de Radio France; Trio KDM; Ensemble Nomos / Radio France FRF055
Thierry Eschaich (b. 1965) is a French organist and composer who has, according to Wikipedia, “written more than a hundred works, awarded with the Prix des Lycéens (2002), the Grand Prix de la Musique symphonique from the SACEM in 2004, and on three occasions, in 2003, 2006 and 2011, the French Victoires de la Musique Composer of the Year award.” This was my first exposure to his work.
Judging from the opening work, La Piste des Chants which is based on a Navajo ritual, he writes in an essentially lyric style but with a shifting and often atonal harmonic base. This particular piece also uses percussion in interesting ways, partly to propel the music but here, too, things are constantly shifting. Just when you think you have the meter worked out, it changes on you and you get a bit disoriented. Sharp interjections of brass and winds cross the aural landscape like fighter jets descending during a war; the choral lines are the most lyrical in the sense of having a legato line but of course are also harmonically complex, as are the lines for the strings. There are moments in this work reminiscent of Holst’s Neptune the Mystic from The Planets.
Much of this music is quite original and at times (as around the 8:28 mark) quite complex, but stylistically it fits neatly into the “edgy-shocking” style that is all the rage nowadays among younger composers. After a while, I felt that La Piste des Chants really didn’t go anywhere though the journey was somewhat interesting. The music is clever but only clever.
By contrast, Visions Nocturnes is a quiet chamber work for clarinet, piano and string quartet that also includes someone chanting a few words. (Since I had to procure these sound clips from YouTube, I was not provided a booklet and so have no idea what the words are about. The speaker (a woman) later breaks into song, in French. I was completely lost although I did discover, online, that the text is “based on poetic texts inspired by the night of Good Friday and the Descent from the Cross by Rubens – the spiritual meaning of the painting, but also its colour variations.” OK, so it’s religious nonsense. The music becomes edgy-shocking as it goes along. A mezzo-soprano is noted as being part of this track on the CD inlay, but there is no name. She is not identified, and clairvoyance is just not one of my job skills.
Cris, another edgy work, features a narration by French playwright Laurent Gaudé. The orchestration consists of an accordion, eight cellos, two percussionists and chorus. I’m sure that I would be able to understand what is going on better if there was only a booklet or some liner notes online that I could read or download, but this is the state of many classical CDs nowadays. The producers really don’t give a crap who listens to or understands this music; it’s just thrown out into the ether with only minimal explanation and you have to fend for yourself.
I did, however, learn that Cris is a play by Gaude. I used Google Translate to decipher what it was about: “From the depths of the Verdun trenches rise the voices of Marius, Jules, Rénier, Ripoll, M. Bossolo, brothers in arms throwing their lives into the ebb and flow of assaults, haunted by the cries of the pigman , this soldier gone mad, lost between the two front lines.” Whoop de doo. And the clown is crying, and no one knows why.
If you speak French you will surely get more out of this disc than I did, but since I don’t I was lost much of the time. It might be nice if they identified the mezzo, however.
—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley
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