Ezequiel Viñao was born in 1960 in Argentina.
There he studied piano and composition, the latter with
Jacobo Ficher, before moving to New York where he attended
the Juilliard School studying, among others, with Milton
Babbitt. Later, he was invited to Avignon to work with Olivier
Messiaen in a series of televised master-classes. These
have apparently exerted considerable influence on his musical
progress, as Arcanum seemingly demonstrates.
Although we are not told one way or the other in the excellent
notes, he may be a relative of another Buenos Aires-born
composer Alejandro Viñao (b. 1951). As it happens, Alejandro
also studied with Jacobo Ficher and later settled in Britain.
is an ambitious and substantial work for soprano and instrumental
ensemble comprising oboe/cor anglais, tenor/alto trombone,
bass trombone, percussion (two players), tabla and string
quintet. Incidentally, the Indian tabla is the only “exotic”
instrument in the ensemble, and is used quite discreetly
– and very efficiently – in several movements. The whole
piece is structured in two parts of fairly equal length
consisting of nine sections each. There are two purely instrumental
sections in each part (Sequentia I and II
in the first part, and Tractus I and II in
part two). The texts set in the vocal sections are drawn
from a wide variety of sources (Virgil’s Aeneid,
Exodus, Parmenides, Kings, Plotinus and Corinthians
in Part I; and Scotus Erigena, Ecclesiastes, Plutarch,
Apocalypse, Saint Augustine, Exodus and Angelus
Silesius’ Cherubinischer Wandersmann in Part II).
So, as remarked in the insert notes, Arcanum
“journeys through time, the concept of time itself and the
nature of knowledge”. This journey is also reflected in
the music which is based on numerous old models such as
Pérotin and Gesualdo. The piece as a whole may be experienced
as a multi-faceted ritual dealing with a number of concerns
relating to light and darkness, life and death, the mystery
(“arcanum” in Latin) of life. Part I is generally darker
in its questionings. It opens with an excerpt from the Aeneid
(“On they went dimly, beneath the lonely night amid the
gloom”) and closes with a fragment by Parmenides (“All is
full of light and obscure night together”). Part II opens
with a reflective instrumental section Tractus I,
moves on with meditations on the permanence of things and
ends with a simple, almost naive statement by the German
mystic writer Angelus Silesius (i.e. Johannes Scheffler):
“The rose is without questions; it blossoms for its blossoms”.
The universality of these eternal concerns is further emphasised
by the fact that these short literary fragments are sung
in various languages: Latin, Greek and German.
As already mentioned,
the music draws on old European musical traditions or on
non-European music. The most remarkable thing about it is
that the music never sounds like pastiche or parody. Quite
the contrary; it possesses a timeless quality that – curiously
enough – sounds remarkably modern. For most of this substantial
piece, the music moves slowly, but it is very colourful
and varied with some more animated episodes for contrast’s
sake. It is often disarmingly – but deceptively – simple,
and impressive and moving for all its apparent simplicity.
The composer works wonders with his limited instrumental
forces used with considerable imagination and resourcefulness.
Obviously, although the music may remind one of Pärt’s Holy
Minimalism or Tavener’s Byzantine music, the composer remains
his own man throughout this long, but never boring piece.
I enjoyed it enormously.
is first rate, and could not be bettered. That Janet Youngdahl
specialises in mediaeval and baroque music is clearly an
asset in these settings which often hark back to old musical
models. She sings beautifully throughout the fiendishly
exposed vocal part, and with a remarkable legato.
Järvi’s Absolute Ensemble plays immaculately, with obvious
enjoyment and conviction.
This is a very
fine disc that I enjoyed very much. I had never heard any
of Viñao’s music before. I do not know what his other pieces
may sound like but I would certainly welcome any opportunity
to hear more of it. If you respond to the music of Pärt,
Tavener, Vasks and Tüür, you should enjoy this splendidly