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MGB Records (Migros-Genossenschafts-Bund)

Jean-Claude SCHLAEPFER (b. 1961)
Exil (1994/5)a
Motets (1992)b
Ascensus (1995)c
Missa Brevis (1997)d
Chant de lune (1995)e
Trio à Karin (1999)f
Visibili et Invisibili (1994)g
Linda Wittauer (soprano)b; Notburga Puskas (harp)b; Daniel Gobet (viola da gamba)b; Olivier Theurillat (trumpet)c; Magali Schwarz (mezzo-soprano)d; Quatuor Ortysd; Trio a Piaceree; Choir of New College, Oxford (Edward Higginbottom, director)g; Orchestre de la Suisse Romandea; Orchestre de Chambre de Lausannec; Ensemble Opus Novum Luzerne; Armin Jordana, Alan Gilbertc, Dominik Blume
Recorded: Radio Suisse Romande-Espace 2 and Schweizer Radio DRS2
MGB CTS-M 72 [73:22]


Now in his early forties, Jean-Claude Schlaepfer was born in Geneva where he had his early musical training (piano and music theory) at the Conservatory. His teachers included the composer Pierre Wissmer. Later, he studied with Betsy Jolas at the Paris Conservatory. He now teaches harmony and analysis both at the Conservatoire Supérieur de Musique and at the Conservatoire Populaire de Musique in Geneva.

MGB’s portrait presents several fairly recent works, all written between 1992 and 1999. These allow for a fairly comprehensive survey of his present output. These live recordings obviously originate from the broadcasts of these pieces’ first performances.

The orchestral piece Exil opens with widely separated ominous drum-strokes. The piece as a whole is a slow processional (very slow indeed since it moves at crochet = 30) often interrupted by many menacing silent bars separating the various sections of the work. The music, however, moves relentlessly towards a mighty climax, cut short by a long pause, after which the music is resumed, mysteriously at first, then with some nervous interjections dispelling the static character of the slow coda, before dissolving away. Exil is an impressive piece of music in spite of its brevity.

Motets, for soprano, harp and viola da gamba, falls into five short sections, of which three are vocal and two function as instrumental interludes (harp and viola da gamba respectively). This setting of parts of Psalm 39 again moves at a slow tempo, and variety is achieved by alternating different instrumental settings: voice and harp, harp interlude, voice with harp and viola da gamba, viola da gamba interlude and – finally – voice, harp and viola da gamba. The music, as in most other pieces here, breathes rarefied air; and might best be described as "updated Webern". The instruments weave a delicate, almost ethereal accompaniment to the often melismatic vocal part.

Ascensus is a short concerto for trumpet and low strings (no violins). It opens on a single E on the trumpet, a defiant call to arms, answered by the strings that continue by supporting the long, sinuous trumpet melody. True to its title, the music slowly moves towards its climax, followed by a hushed, mysterious coda in which the muted trumpet plays softly, as if hiding itself behind the strings. The music dies away softly.

Missa Brevis for mezzo-soprano and string quartet sets short fragments of the traditional Mass (the Gloria actually only sets the words Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax). As in Motets, the voice part has the leading role, particularly so in the awe-stricken Sanctus, in which it is sparsely accompanied by the strings. The Benedictus is spoken (by a member of the quartet?). This again is a very short, compact piece; but nevertheless quite accessible (this may be due to the choice of a warmer mezzo-soprano voice).

The short Chant de lune for small ensemble opens on percussion, later with short, fragmentary motives. This hesitating opening section is followed by an ostinato played by the double bass functioning as a pedal over which woodwinds, strings’ pizzicati and percussion superimpose short, flash-like interjections. Finally, the other instruments join in, imitating the double bass’s ostinato thus slowly moving towards the piece’s appeased conclusion.

Trio à Karin for piano trio is in six short sections in which moods are briefly but tellingly suggested. Much as in some of Webern’s shorter works, there is no development. It is obviously a quite private and intimate piece of music. Eric Gaudibert suggests in his insert notes that the trio might have been subtitled Requiem pour une enfant, although we are not told who Karin was. It is obviously a very personal utterance for all its epigrammatic character.

The choral work Visibili et Invisibili for treble voices and men’s voices sets parts of Psalm 88 (men’s voices) and of the Epistle to the Colossians (treble voices, in the second section of the piece). The music is rather intricately contrapuntal, and the first section often calls Ligeti’s Lux aeterna to mind. In the second section, both choirs meet and lead the music to its radiant conclusion.

Reticent is what comes to mind when thinking over this composer and his music. Obviously, he does not bear his heart on his sleeve, but his restraint no way obliterates his will to communicate. His often slow-moving, sparse music speaks truly while avoiding histrionics. It does not yield its secrets easily and cries out for repeated hearings. I would like to hear more of his music soon, for Schlaepfer’s music is the expression of a sincere and honest artist.

Hubert Culot

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