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CD: Crotchet

Piet SWERTS (b. 1960)
Heilige Seelenlust (2008)
Ann De Renais (soprano); Jan Caals (tenor)
Choirs and Orchestras of the Lemmens Institute/Edmond Saveniers
rec. live, Concert Hall, Lemmensinstituut, Leuven, Belgium, 27-28 November 2008
Texts and translations
PHAEDRA 92059 [72:39]
Experience Classicsonline

Piet Swerts’ output includes several large-scale choral-orchestral works such as his Passio Domini Nostri Jesu Christi Secundum Marcum (1988) and his Second Symphony “Morgenrot” (2000). The latter was reviewed here some time ago. There’s also a full-length opera Les Liaisons dangereuses (1994/6). I should also mention an occasional, though substantial score composed to accompany an exhibition on the origins of life Leven in Steen (2004).

On the present disc is one of his latest works. It is - again - large-scale and fairly substantial. The specification is for soprano, tenor, female chorus, male chorus, children’s chorus, two alto recorders, two harps, two pianos, string orchestra and wind ensemble. This imposing work sets sections of The Song of Songs and words by Angelus Silesius (1624 - 1677). It falls into two parts of broadly equal length.

The first opens with a cumulative introduction from the depths of the orchestra leading into the first entry of the mixed chorus (Jesu, meine Freud und Lust - A. Silesius). This rousing music is followed by various settings from The Song of Songs. These are remarkably varied throughout - both vocally and instrumentally. Komm doch und küss mich (No.2) is delicately scored for soprano, alto recorder and harp whereas the next section Schwarz gebrannt is for female voice, orchestra I & II and two harps. No.5 is another intimate duet for soprano, tenor, two recorders and two harps. This is in full contrast to the next section Mein Freund kommt zu mir - choirs, children’s voices and orchestra - that sings a happy song with a somewhat rustic flavour. The seventh section Nachts lieg ich auf dem Bett is a beautiful Nocturne, in all but name, for soprano, wordless choirs, two recorders and two pianos. In turn it is answered by a love song in which the lover sings of the beauty of his beloved (tenor, children’s chorus, recorders and harps). Part I ends with a gloriously contrapuntal setting of O quam suavis freely based on William Byrd’s Gradualia II.

Part II opens with a lively setting (Komm, meine Braut) in which the lover appeals to his beloved to leave everything behind her and come and live with him. The eleventh section somewhat recalls the eighth in that it too is a love song. This is followed by a new section (No.12) for tenor, strings and horn cast as a slow dance. In the next section the bride appeals to the winds - this short section is imaginatively scored for soprano and three flutes. The fourteenth section - again a duet for soprano and tenor - recalls material from the twelfth section. After a short episode for choirs and orchestra, soprano, tenor, choruses and orchestras join forces for the second Silesius section. The children’s voices then have a short Interlude - actually a new setting of O quam suavis leading into the most extended part: the Finale which deploys some of the most celebrated words from The Song of Songs : Lege dich (“Set me as a seal”). Here everyone except the recorders joins in for the only time in the course of the entire work. I find the Finale a bit too long and something of an anti-climax to a piece described by the composer as a festive work. I had expected a grand exalted Finale yet what we have instead is a sort of peaceful fulfilment. This said, however, Heilige Seelenlust is an imposing work that never fails to impress through sheer vitality, variety and invention.

This recording was made during the first performances of the work and one can certainly sense the excitement of all concerned in taking part in a special occasion. On the whole everyone sings and plays with commitment and conviction. The immaculate singing of Ann De Renais may certainly be singled-out whereas Jan Caals, though quite good, seems a bit strained at times. The recorded sound is quite nice although there is a good deal of coughing and extraneous noise; nothing serious enough to deter anyone from listening to this superbly crafted and sincere piece.

This substantial work should appeal to anyone with a liking for accessible, though by no means condescending contemporary music.

Hubert Culot



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