Tuesday, 11 December 2012

12/12/12 Jurowski LPO Grisey Quatre Chants Mahler 5

Vladimir Jurowski conducts the LPO in Mahler's Symphony no 5  on 12/12/12. We'll never see dates like that again. Some could deduce  Portents of Doom but maybe we're safe, as the concert doesn't start at 12 past 12.

Even though music is abstract, listening is a subjective experience.  Music itself is neutral, but we would not be human if we did not respond emotionally and carry unconscious connotations into the process. We might read Portents of Doom into this symphony since Mahler nearly died while writing it. However, the thought of haemorrhoids should stop excess sentimentality.

Jurowski is no fool. He's programmed Mahler with Gérard Grisey's Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil.  As Mahler said,"music is more than just the notes". When we listen, can we think how our responses are being channeled?  For me this is one of the truly great song cycles of the last 50 years. In the last 6 years,  it's been heard live in London at least 4 times, twice I think with Barbara Hannigan. Jurowski's soloist is Alison Bell. The classic recording is Catherine Dubosc, with Cambreling.

Grisey was interested in "psychoacoustics", which sounds terrible, but what that means is intense awareness of how what we hear affects how the brain rocesses what comes through our ears, and vice versa. A lot of his music seems attuned to natural body rhythms, so you hear tiny nuances. It's surprisingly therapeutic without actually being designed to be that way. This is not waffly New Age stuff.   It's mentally challenging because it needs careful attention, but somehow it connects to your pulse, as natural as breathing. Often I play this music on continuous loop, so it "evolves" like it's alive.

 Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil. refers to the idea of "crossing the threshold", between life and death, between struggle and sublimation, a flux between levels of consciousness. It works like deep meditation, releasing the soul so it can be free. Shortly after it was completed Grisey died suddenly but that's pure coincidence. There's nothing spooky about that at all, even though Grisey's  title comes from a line in Claude Vivier's Glaubst du, an die Unsterblichkeit der Seele? That earlier piece refers to being stabbed and crossing over into the unknown. Shortly after, Vivier (ironic name) was murdered by a casual stranger in almost exactly the same circumstances. (Lots about Vivier elsewhere on this site.)

Grisey's Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil.starts with long semi-silence then suddenly waving chords enter, not discordant, but disjointed, This isn't firm ground but exploratory. "De....qui....se....doit....." sings the soprano, vertical sounds over the hazy horizontals around her. Gradually the patterns merge, the Voice part disintegrates and reforms in abstract, transcended form, soaring like an arc, stretching outwards into space. Then the incantation, based on sacred Egyptian texts instructing the soul on its journey from death to immortality. The texts are fragmented, and the music hovers as if intuiting the gaps in the transmission. Each stage in the ritual is numbered and intoned, for what's even more important than the detail is the sense of inexorable forward movement. "Laisse moi passer, laisse moi passer"....then "formule pour être un dieu"'.

More wonderfully shaped moving sound, deep timbred instruments like contrabass clarinet, muted tubas and trumpet, contrasted with the high voice. "Le voix s'épand dans l'ombre". Only the rumble of drums like distant thunder and barely perceptible rustling, hurrying sounds like wind. We're crossing something..... Circular arching trumpet sounds, more rustling, speeding up, punctuated by sharp thwacks on percussion and harp. Then waddling tuba and screeching (but harmonic! ) saxophones and clarinets. We enter a new place, vivid with clear light. The soprano's singing text from the Epic of Gilgamesh. This is the "death of civilization". Human bodies have turned into a vast sea of clay, but to the prophet, it's a terrace open onto an endless horizon. The violin part is painfully beautiful, and there's a steady hum vibrating in the background. Of the final Berceuse, Grisey said it's not a lullaby but "music to the dawning of humanity finally liberated of its nightmare".

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