French conductor Lionel Bringuier and his fellow countryman Xavier de Maistre visit Oslo to perform a programme of intensely colourful and fragrant music.
During the 20th century, French composers developed a particular sensitivity to the the “sound” of music. In Daphnis et Chloe, Ravel illustrates the sheperd’s tale with magical hues, and in Valses Nobles et Sentimentales, the orchestra dances in a beautiful spring guise. Inspired by French tradition, the two contemporary composers, Kaija Saariaho and Esa-Pekka Salonen, have lifted the art of sound into a new millennium with their imaginative and refined musical language.
The name of Maurice Ravel (1875−1937) is often mentioned in the same breath as that of Claude Debussy, and even if the two French masters had very different styles, they shared an interest in sound. Both were interested in how they could combine new sounds, or put well-known harmonies into new contexts. They also explored the sound colours of different instruments, both alone and in subtle interplay with other instruments, to achieve their desired effect. This is apparent both in Valses Nobles et Sentimentales and, not least, in Ravel’s greatest masterpiece, the ballet which tells the story of the sheperd couple, Daphnis et Chloe, first performed in 1912 and here represented through orchestral suite No. 2.
With sustained notes in hushed strings and horns, and a rustling of harps, flutes and clarinets, Ravel paints a picture of a nature which awakes when the sun’s first rays glimmer in the orchestra, forming a picturesque canvas for the narrative. After a while, a clearer, pentatone melody develops, which reaches its passionate climax when love strikes the oblivious couple. Still, physical love must wait until the wild, rhythmically driven ending, partially written in 5/4 to reflect its Dionysian drive, depicted here through the gigantic orchestra apparatus. In the meantime, Pan, god of nature, and his Syrinx are revered by fiery flute playing and rich sounds in the middle sections.
Just like Ravel, Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho (b. 1952) has been inspired by the resources offered by the instruments themselves. Her harp concerto Trans (2015) is constructed around the unique possibilities presented by, namely, the harp. Of the work, she says: “Trans is a contemplation based on on the qualities I love about the harp, such as the many possibilities for glissandi, the possibility of hearing so clearly fingers plucking the strings, the rich resonance and the wide register”. The work is characterised by the many delicate and intricate dialogues between soloist and orchestra. Saariaho has studied in France, where she still lives, and was early in her career fascinated by spectral music and other French styles. Throughout her compelling musical language one can clearly discern a particular French sensitivity to sound. This harp concerto was created in collaboration with this evening’s soloist, Xavier de Maistre.
Echoing Saariaho’s success on the international contemporary music scene, Esa-Pekka Salonen (b. 1958) is increasingly in demand as a composer. In his work for orchestra, Helix (2005), he offers up his richly detailed knowledge of the orchestra, acquired over several decades through his work as an eminent conductor. A helix is a three-dimensional spiral, and Salonen maintains that the form of the work can be described in precisely this way. He says: “the process in Helix is, in essence, a nine-minute long accelerando. The musical expression changes drastically in the course of the nine minutes. The idyllic, almost pastoral opening phrase written for piccolo and contrabassoon returns later through the horns and trumpets, fortissimo, and is surrounded by a busy tutti ensemble. The final part reveals the material in an almost manic light”.
(In photo: Xavier de Maistre, Photo: Gregor Hohenberg, Sony Classical; Text: Thomas Erma Møller; Translation from Norwegian: Sarah Osa)
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