This excellent SACD disc compiles works from a group of French composers currently in residence at the Casa de Velazquez, an artistic collective founded in 1920 by Charles-Marie Widor and dedicated to promote a spirit of artistic fellowship between French and Spanish scholars and artists in many fields and disciplines. The Casa, located in Madrid, was built just prior to the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, and was destroyed during early front-line fighting. All artistic endeavors were relocated to Fez, Morocco, until the conclusion of the war; in 1940 the artists returned and the new Casa de Velazquez was completed in 1958. Annual expositions are held premiering the works of each year’s composition class, and this disc represents compositions from throughout the current decade.
The compositional style employed pretty much throughout is a sort of French version of the Second Viennese School, with the exception that most of the pieces are slightly more melodic in nature than the typical twelve-tone work of Schoenberg, Berg or Webern. All of the pieces are performed with acoustic instruments (a real rarity in much modern music), with the exception of Patientia (Patience) by Jean-Phillippe Bec, which employs MIDI electronics in combination with the traditional instruments. Three of the pieces also include extensive use of a soprano (Brigitte Peyre); the female voice evokes a mood quite reminiscent of Berg’s Lulu, and the effect is absolutely hauntingly beautiful. One caveat; there seems to be a disparity between the soprano voice and the accompanying instrumentation, and the soprano was often piercingly loud. While the chamber quality and delicate textures of the instrumentation encouraged me to turn up the volume to what seemed like a normal level, the piercing quality of the soprano, regardless of however mystical and beautiful, forced me to turn the volume down again.
I’d give this disc four stars; there’s much to like from a musical standpoint, and the recording is top-notch. If the disparity between the recording levels of the instruments and the vocal soloist wasn’t so severe, I’d give the work five stars. Hey, this could just be an artistic decision, and this otherwise excellent disc just might be your cup of tea.
— Tom Gibbs