AUBERT LEMELAND: Symphony No. 6, “Les Eléments”; Time Landscapes; Mémorial, “Dieppe”; Concert Nocturne – Staatsorchester Rheinische Philharmonie /soloists/Jose Serebrier – Skarbo HERMANN NITSCH: Symphony No. 9 – Peter J. Marthe, cond. – Gramola (2)

by | Sep 16, 2010 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

AUBERT LEMELAND: Symphony No. 6, “Les Eléments,” Op. 130; Time Landscapes, Op. 153; Mémorial, “Dieppe, 19-08-1942,” Op. 158; Concert Nocturne, Op. 137 – Staatsorchester Rheinische Philharmonie /Ensemble Instrumental de Grenoble / Carole Farley, soprano/ Sabine Chefson, harp /Jose Serebrier and Marc Tardue– Skarbo DSK 3104, 60:25 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

HERMANN NITSCH: Symphony No. 9, “Die Ägyptische”– European Philharmonic Orchestra / Peter Jan Marthé – Gramola 98880/81 (2 discs), 45:25, 56:09 [Distr. by Allegro] *:

Born in Normandy in 1932, Aubert Lemeland has written over two hundred works, including fourteen symphonies. He claims among his favorite composers Sibelius, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Barber, Copland, Ives, Britten, and Adams—quite a diversity of influences. While he includes no French composers in this catalog, there is a definite French mistiness about Symphony No. 6 that calls to mind Debussy and Ravel as filtered through the musical language of Dutilleux. But the bleak atmosphere Lemeland conjures also recalls the wide-open spaces of Sibelius and Samuel Barber, at least in his two symphonies, especially the icily aloof Second Symphony. Given Lemeland’s scintillating use of the large orchestra he employs, Symphony No. 6 (commissioned by Michel Plasson) makes a very positive impression; I want to hear more, if not all fourteen.

Time Landscapes for soprano and orchestra is also all about atmosphere. Based on classical Chinese poetry, the eight “mélodies” making up this suite have recourse to some obvious chinoiserie, but again the chief influence seems to be latter-day French Impressionism. Graciously written for both the soprano voice and the orchestra, these eight tableaux melt on the ear like musical marshmallows. But this is sensuous rather than soft-centered music; there’s a core of compositional toughness about Lemeland’s work. One interesting feature that Lemeland points out in his notes to this recording is the support of a “concertant trio” of tuned percussion (vibraphone and marimba) and harp supported by “vibrations of the two tam-tams and cymbals.” It’s this kind of thoughtful combination of orchestral sounds that adds distinction to Lemeland’s writing.

Premiered in Quebec in 1993, Mémorial pays tribute to the Allied forces, primarily Canadian, who made a fruitless attack on Dieppe in 1942 in which 6o% of the 6,000 men involved were killed, wounded, or captured. Lemeland says that the work stirred emotions in Quebec, and I believe it. It evokes a gray watery world of terror along the French coast but ends with a rather stark chaconne that serves, in Lemeland’s words, as “a final ‘In paradisum.’” I must say the ending doesn’t work as well for me as the rest of the piece.

Concert Nocturne, written in memory of French harpist Martine Géliot, who died at age forty in 1988, again calls to mind Debussy, this time the older composer’s Danses sacrées et profanes, though Lemeland’s work is both bleaker and more virtuosic. As with Mémorial, the piece ends with a sense of quiet yet pained acceptance.

Though I get the distinct impression that the Staatsorchester Rheinische Philharmonie is less than a stellar body of musicians, Serebrier has the orchestra playing throughout with intense involvement, and that tends to make up for any lack of polish. Maybe part of the problem is a somewhat over-reverberant recording, which adds a touch of boominess to the lower frequencies. The high end of the orchestra sounds just fine, however.

Carole Farley and Sabine Chefson add luster to the performances of Time Landscapes and Concert Nocturne, and given the excellence of most of the music on offer here, this gets a definite thumbs up from me.

Then we come to the Ninth Symphony of Hermann Nitsch. Nitsch is a Viennese performance artist responsible for a series of so-called “actions,” which involve paint, noise, and animal mutilations. His outré performances have landed him in prison a number of times in the past, but now it seems he’s entered the mainstream. He frequently displays in galleries, and in 2005 the Vienna State Opera commissioned him to design the sets for Stravinsky’s Le Renard.

I’m not sure what Nitsch’s musical training involved or indeed that what he produces requires much in the way of training. He erects huge static walls of sound, or more properly noise, that are occasionally interrupted by the hokey strains of military band music—a Stockhausen-cum-Mahler sort of guy, I guess. Well, most of it is plenty hard on the ears and the subwoofer, if your rig includes one. Maybe it’s fun for an orchestra to play, but I doubt it.

The booklet accompanying this recording boasts almost as many words as Nitsch’s score includes notes, most in praise of the composer, such as conductor Peter Jan Mathé’s modest claim that “What is really new about Nitsch’s music is understanding, respecting and treating sounds as living entities, unlike our Western treatment of tones, where they are nothing more than arbitrary jigsaw pieces for chord structures, gamuts, scales or serial rows.” Take that, all you compositional wusses currently polluting the world’s concert halls! And make way for Hermann Nitsch. Or maybe not. I’ll let other ears decide. Mine deserve a rest after the mutilation they just underwent. Now, where’s that Mozart CD. . . ?

— Lee Passarella

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