The name of Georges Aperghis is nowhere near as well known in
the UK as it should be. Last year I came across a DVD concerning
his life and work (Ideale Audience DVD9DS18 - see review),
which comprised a comprehensive documentary, including interviews
with the composer. It was entitled Storm Beneath a Skull,
and includes a complete performance of his compelling theatre
piece, the forty-minute Little Red Riding Hood. Part of
the documentary included commentaries on what the present booklet
notes referred to as 'the essential' Récitations of 1978.
Aperghis accepts that his expectations of his performers are unrealistic.
Watching a performer wrestle with Récitations, as the DVD
proves, is half of the entertainment/experience. So how does one
fare without images?
almost every sound one can imagine coming via the human voice-box
- and a few others besides. Grunts, whistles, huge leaps,
guttural stops, squeaks, squeals and many more sounds make
up the vocabulary here. The importance of the CD under review
is that it presents the first, live, complete performance.
Aperghis works with syllables and phonemes as if they were
notes and pitches, so they become part of the timbral/melodic
Each of the fourteen
pieces poses its own problem, then attempts to solve it. There
is often performer choice involved in what we hear, as well
as the more usual issues as to how it is performed. The score
of the second Récitation, for example, can be read
from top to bottom, bottom to top, left to right or right
to left. The composer's own advice provides probably the best
listening strategy: 'we feel at first something and start
to think about it only later on, like the way we perceive
colours and objects in our childhood or the way we dream'.
Despite the seemingly
random nature of the procession of gestures, there is something
strangely compelling about the experience as a whole. Performers
of this music are special creatures, in that they are willing
to extend themselves so much in the service of the music.
Donatienne Michel-Dansac is superb
in her whole-hearted embracing of the demands placed upon
her. She moves from fast-moving syllables to hugely long sustained
pitches that are then subjected to transformation into something
more closely resembling a muted wail. Another strategy Aperghis
uses is to have his vocalist recite one sentence - written
below the stave - while pronouncing with their lips, simultaneously,
another, different, sentence written above the stave. This
results in an effect analogous to bad film dubbing!
composer and performer provide sleeve-notes in an attempt
to acclimatise the listener. For all those interested in music
which not only pushes the boundaries of the possible but which
also, in its end result, justifies itself fully as
music, this is required listening.
audience is astonishingly quiet throughout, only making its
presence known at the very end with its justifiably enthusiastic