Benoît Mernier, now in his late thirties, is
one of the most interesting young Belgian composers of his generation,
and this well-planned selection offers a comprehensive survey of his
output so far. (CYPRES have also released another CD [CYP 4612] of his
music including his recent Mass for chorus and organ which
obviously points towards some new stylistic development.)
The works recorded here were all written over the last
six years or so, and the earliest of them is the superb Intonazione
of 1996 (the title obliquely refers to organ pieces by Andrea and Giovanni
Gabrieli) which is a colourful, subtly scored orchestral showpiece,
the idiom of which is sometimes redolent of late Berio. To my mind,
this is, with his beautiful Blake Songs (1992/4) for voice
and orchestra, one of his finest works so far.
Les Idées Heureuses, completed
in 1997, is scored for two pianos and percussion. It alternates short
movements of different instrumental groupings, the whole ensemble playing
only in the outer sections. The global impact of the piece is closer
to Berio’s Linea than to Bartok’s Sonata for two
Pianos and Percussion. (The title is borrowed from François
The Clarinet Quintet (1998/9) was originally
written to accompany a silent film (Amore Pedestre by
Marcel Fabre – 1914). The film was about a woman, her lover and her
jealous husband; but the director’s trick was that you could only see
the feet of the characters and that you had to imagine what was going
on. This may explain the playful, extrovert nature of this delightfully
colourful and engaging score.
Les Niais de Sologne (the title, this
time, is borrowed from Rameau) is a short piece for mixed ensemble.
In Rameau’s times, a ‘simpleton from Sologne’ was some sly fellow pretending
to be a simpleton only to cheat others more easily. In fact, the music
here goes its own way playing some Hide and Seek game by blurring the
outlines of the sections of the piece and by maintaining a good deal
of ambiguity in the harmonic progress throughout the piece.
Mernier mentions his teacher Philippe Boesmans and
Magnus Lindberg as potent influences on his musical thinking. (He actually
never studied with Lindberg whose scores he studied thoroughly.) As
some other young Belgian composers (e.g. Claude Ledoux and Luc Brewaeys),
Mernier has been interested in ‘spectral’ music, but this technique
is often discreetly and discriminatingly used in his music. And true
his music often recalls Boesmans, Lindberg and – to the present writer,
at least – Berio with whom he shares a pronounced liking for fine instrumental
or orchestral sounds.
Mernier’s music is well served by the present performers
who have often performed it in concerts, and the recorded sound (including
that of the live performance of Intonazione made by Radio
France) is quite superb.
Mernier is a most endearing composer whose attractive
music is a delight and the present release is warmly recommended.