Notes and Editorial Reviews
Rudolf Escher (1912-1980) is without doubt one of the most original, intriguing and successful Dutch composers of the 20th century. In his youth he studied piano, cello, and composition with Willem Pijper in Rotterdam. During the war all his works were destroyed in the Rotterdam bombing. After the war he experimented with electronic music and came into close contact with Pierre Boulez and the serial techniques. In the end Escher developed his own highly personal music language. In Escher's music we hear echos of the Dutch polyphonists, Mahler, Debussy and Ravel. After the war, Escher remained true to his own musical language, never buckling under the force of the latest trend.
Escher had not yet turned 30 when, in the depths of the Second World War, he began the score which would at a stroke make him the most important living composer in the Netherlands. Premiered by the Concertgebouw Orchestra in 1947, Musique pour l'esprit en deuil (1941–3) – ‘Music for the grieving spirit’ – is a 20-minute score of intense, brooding pathos, inevitably overwhelmed by the shadow of conflict and a worthy counterpart to contemporary works such as Honegger’s Liturgique Symphony. Live recordings conducted by Eduard van Beinum and Bernard Haitink have been published, but this beautifully prepared studio recording is the work of their successor as music director of the Concertgebouw, Riccardo Chailly, who did so much to reconnect the orchestra with the music of our time during his tenure.
Musique pour l'esprit en deuil is paired here with the Concerto for String Orchestra (1947-48), which attracted the admiration of John Cage, perhaps more for its surprising points of serenity than its Bartokian passages of tension and exhilarated release.
Choral music occupied a significant place in Escher’s fairly slender output. As a teacher and writer on music, a painter and a poet, Escher first thoroughly absorbed the poetry he was setting to music, then carefully devised his treatment of the words to make them both singable and understandable. His choice of poets – Paul Eluard, WH Auden, Emily Dickinson – is notable for its response to text which makes the language new again. The same is true of Ciel, air et vents, a cycle of three songs to words by the 16th-century French poet Pierre Ronsard.
This 3-CD set is part of the reissue of the most celebrated recordings from the NM Classics label.