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Polyphonies "Jeune France" - Messiaen, Jolivet, Daniel-Lesur / Sequenza 9.3

Release Date: 04/08/2008 
Label:  Alpha Productions   Catalog #: 112   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Olivier MessiaenAndré JolivetJean Yves Daniel-Lesur
Performer:  Fraancoise FaidherbeEtienne VandierArnelle HumbertThi Lien Truong,   ... 
Conductor:  Catherine Simonpietri
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sequenza 9.3
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

DANIEL-LESUR Le cantique des cantiques. MESSIAEN 5 rechants. JOLIVET Epithalame Catherine Simonpietri, cond; Sequenza 9.3 ALPHA 112 (58:24 Text and Translation)

La jeune France was the group name that Jean Yves Daniel-Lesur (1908–2002), Olivier Messiaen (1908–92), André Jolivet (1905–74), and Yves Read more Baudrier (1906–88) took in 1935/36 when they committed themselves to moving from the neo-Classicism they felt was the dominant musical mode in interwar France to what they considered “a more spiritual style of composition.” Between 1949 and 1953, the first three composed pieces on the theme of love for Marcel Couraud’s various ensembles.

For his 1952 piece, Daniel-Lesur took seven Biblical texts from the Song of Songs , and arranged them in a loose sort of narrative, from spiritual meeting to spiritual wedding. Largely homophonic, these are not easy notes to sing. Though generally diatonic, there are many tuning pitfalls in the myriad of seconds and sevenths with which these pieces abound. Daniel-Lesur often contrasts the men and the women by using two kinds of composition simultaneously, polyphony against homophony, for example. That said, these pieces are intended to be aurally as well as textually ravishing, and they are. In the last of the seven sections, the ensemble makes a long, slow, choral crescendo that is a stunning example of control, moving toward the word “Alleluia” and the only full cadence in the piece.

Olivier Messiaen did not compose a great amount of vocal music, and most of that is written for sopranos. Of the four pieces for mixed voices, this, from 1949, is one of the two most-often performed (the other is the motet, O sacrum convivium ). For Messiaen, everything was sound. In this sense his attitude resembled that of his contemporary, John Cage: they even shared an interest in Indian music. Messiaen wrote the Five Refrains about the same time he was writing the Turangalîla-symphonie , with which it shares a rhythmic complexity. More difficult here, however, is the demanding intervallic movement. Unlike Daniel-Lesur, whose music is directed toward the text, Messiaen uses the text itself as part of his musical color. That is, the music does not by itself support the text, the text offers a chance for yet more color variation in the music. This does not mean that the words are unimportant: on the contrary, the reason Messiaen assembled his own texts was to make sure that they provided the right sounds at the right musical moments. The texts of Cinq rechants are of two kinds: the first are those that are only sound, with a rhythmic but not a syntactical relationship to each other and the rest of the text; the second are sentences and fragments loosely related to the Tristan and Isolde story and a mixture of phrases in other languages, and these surface as words at key moments to imply a narrative. (At the banal end of the spectrum, this is also what happens with the buzzwords in much popular music and advertising.) The net result of this, of course, is that almost all “meaning” in this set is carried musically, words also understood as musical material. The interesting thing about this piece is that, though everything (rhythm, pitch, duration, color, volume) is organized unto the tiniest detail, the result is as sensuous as the tale to which it is related.

André Jolivet’s choral output was quite small and came rather late in his career. Epithalame (1953), his most-performed choral piece, is described as being for “twelve part vocal orchestra” and was an anniversary gift to his wife. As such, it celebrates marriage. Though he mixes syllable-sounds and other languages into his text, the French parts are usually reasonably clear. Jolivet uses a wider variety of “orchestral” techniques than Messiaen but the aural fabric is more unified. It does not sound the same as either Messiaen or Daniel-Lesur.

Sequenza 9.3 (pronounced as “nine-three” and referring to the suburb of Paris where they are headquartered) is a superb ensemble. Simonpietri has trained them well and, being French themselves, all the linguistic acoustic nuances so necessary to the very color and rhythms of these works fall naturally into place. Though only 12 in number, they also have the heft to tackle the immense dynamic range required. Sequenza 9.3 sings dead in tune and gives thereby a clarity to its utterance that allows the underlying sensuousness of all these pieces to manifest itself. Simonpietri has a fine sense, too, for pacing this music, and I cannot imagine them being better performed. In 28:4, Raymond Tuttle recommended the recording of these three pieces by The Sixteen on Coro but had reservations about their French. That hesitation does not apply here, and, in a year when we celebrate the centenaries of both Daniel-Lesur and Messiaen, I can unreservedly recommend these performances.

FANFARE: Alan Swanson
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Works on This Recording

Rechants (5) by Olivier Messiaen
Performer:  Fraancoise Faidherbe (Alto), Etienne Vandier (Tenor), Arnelle Humbert (Soprano),
Thi Lien Truong (Alto), James Gowings (Bass), Hubert Dény (Bass),
Jean-Christophe Jacques (Bass), Pierre Lefebvre (Soprano), Pascale Costes (Soprano),
Phillipe Froeliger (Tenor), Fabienne Werquin (Alto), Laurent David (Tenor)
Conductor:  Catherine Simonpietri
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sequenza 9.3
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1949; France 
Epithalame by André Jolivet
Performer:  Arnelle Humbert (Soprano), Etienne Vandier (Tenor), Fraancoise Faidherbe (Alto),
Fabienne Werquin (Alto), Laurent David (Tenor), Phillipe Froeliger (Tenor),
Jean-Christophe Jacques (Bass), Pierre Lefebvre (Soprano), Thi Lien Truong (Alto),
Pascale Costes (Soprano), Hubert Dény (Bass), James Gowings (Bass)
Conductor:  Catherine Simonpietri
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sequenza 9.3
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1953; France 
Length: 16 Minutes 39 Secs. 
Le cantique des cantiques by Jean Yves Daniel-Lesur
Performer:  Fraancoise Faidherbe (Alto), Fabienne Werquin (Alto), Thi Lien Truong (Alto),
Etienne Vandier (Tenor), Laurent David (Tenor), Phillipe Froeliger (Tenor),
James Gowings (Bass), Jean-Christophe Jacques (Bass), Pierre Lefebvre (Soprano),
Pascale Costes (Soprano), Arnelle Humbert (Soprano), Hubert Dény (Bass)
Conductor:  Catherine Simonpietri
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sequenza 9.3
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1953; France 

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