Notes and Editorial Reviews
Johannes Gustavsson, cond; Michael Weinius (ten); Swedish RSO & Ch
CPO 777 495-2 (59:52)
This is my first encounter with the music of Swedish-born composer Anders Eliasson, and I am sure I am not the only newcomer. Eliasson doesn’t exactly help himself; no agent, no professional post, no exact definition of his style. From the detailed and very high-minded notes, Eliasson comes across as a thoroughly sincere and committed tonalist, unconvinced and alienated by much of contemporary
music’s dogmatic rejection of melody and metrical rhythms. He grew up primarily with jazz, with his counterpoint and harmony training in his teens being his first introduction to classical composition. Despite much subsequent tutoring in the modernist techniques of Cage and Ligeti, Eliasson appears to rely more on a kind of neo-tonality (better explained in cpo’s notes) and quest for emotion, rather than mere clinical technique for his work.
With a career of already very high-profile symphonic commissions, Eliasson was approached by conductor Manfred Honeck to compose a Requiem. Struggling with his conflicting views on Christian belief and the clerical institution, the result that premiered in 2009 is
, an 11-part oratorio, containing not just the Latin apocryphal reference, but also six other texts, German translations of ancient Sumerian and anonymous poems and songs. Defying genre (Eliasson relunctantly accepts “symphonic cantata”), this grandly conceived work is through-composed, with the vocal sections spread out between orchestral interludes. Despite the composer’s upbringing, this is not very jazzy. From its opening brass trills and lush string lines,
is a grandly orchestrated work for our austere times. In length, ambition, and use of ancient texts, Mahler’s
Das Lied von der Erde
seems an obvious comparison, despite that work’s separate movements and lack of chorus. There is a primal element to both pieces and a similar bold approach to orchestration. Despite his belief in harmony, Eliasson achieves some dissonant, almost Soviet-sounding effects, like in the first
, playing off the massed strings against the wild, high brass writing. Throughout, his innate understanding of orchestration is impressive; his word-setting, especially for the chorus, is exemplary, and not once is there the impression that Eliasson is wasting his huge forces, or merely throwing everyone together to make a big noise. Climaxes are overwhelming, but also properly built up and balanced. He also knows how to complete a journey, ending with the words of Enheduanna’s
Exhaltation of Inanna
: “That I have exalted you, goddess, that you are the beloved of An, I have sung of your wrath.” Then with a little flutter from the flutes it is all over. Mahler would have been proud, and I must admit this work grabs me on a very immediate, emotional level.
Michael Weinius is a fine soloist, beautifully supported by crystal-clear choral singing and colorful orchestral playing, with nothing in Johannes Gustavsson’s conducting suggesting a clinical, skim reading of this new score. Sound is bright and full, if rather too spacious. As usual with cpo, notes and translations are excellent. I do hate writing “a must-buy” for niche stuff like this, and I bet Eliasson will squirm at my pigeonholing and comparisons, but if you know your Zemlinsky, Schreker, and Schoeck, you will be as pleased as I am to hear this stylish work.
FANFARE: Barnaby Rayfield
Works on This Recording
Quo Vadis by Anders Eliasson
Michael Weinius (Tenor)
Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra,
Swedish Radio Chorus
Period: 20th/21st Century
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