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Benoît MERNIER (b. 1964)
An die Nacht (2002)a [19:14]
Piano Trio (2003)b [14:00]
Blake Songs (1992/4)c [25:00]
Laure Delcampe (soprano)a; Carmen Fuggiss (soprano)c; Trio Fibonaccib; Orchestre Philharmonique de Liègea; Ensemble Modernc; Patrick Davina, Peter Rundelc
rec. Salle Philharmonique de Liège, March 2004 (An die Nacht); Academiezaal, Sint-Truiden, December 2004 (Piano Trio) and RTBF, Flagey Studio 4, Brussels, March 1994 (Blake Songs)
CYPRÈS CYP 4624 [57:51]

Mernierís Blake Songs is the very first work of his that I have ever heard and one that immediately caught my attention. From then on, I was sure that he was a composer whose music definitely appealed and meant something to me. Actually, half of the Blake Songs were composed in 1992 and performed during the 2003 Ars Musica festival in Brussels by Mireille Capelle and the ensemble Champ díAction conducted by Alain Franco. At that time, the cycle consisted of To Winter, Infant Joy and Mad Song. Three further settings were added in 1994 and the first song was revised.

The complete cycle sets poems drawn from Poetical Sketches, Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, laid-out in a broadly symmetrical structure. There are two substantial outer sections (respectively To Winter and Mad Song, both from Poetical Sketches), Nurseís Song I and Infant Joy (from Songs of Innocence) and Infant Sorrow and Nurseís Song II (from Songs of Experience). The complete cycle makes a remarkably coherent whole, opening with a powerful evocation of winter and ending with an equally impressive dramatic, stormy vision. The two poems from Songs of Innocence - a light-footed Scherzo and a relatively simple song - are strongly counter-balanced by the two poems from Songs of Experience, representing the dark side of the human soul.

Though a comparatively early work in Mernierís output, Blake Songs already displays a number of this composerís fingerprints, such as a remarkable orchestral mastery and a considerable feeling for dramatic expression fully in tune with the wordsí content.

These hallmarks are found again, with increased mastery and considerable refinement, in the impressive Novalis setting An die Nacht for soprano and orchestra. This was completed almost ten years later and first performed in Liège in 2003. A repeat performance in 2004 led to the present recording. It is a substantial large-scale setting in which the orchestra plays such a considerable part that it may be considered a tone poem with voice rather than an orchestral song. Harry Halbreich rightly suggests as much in his excellent insert notes. An die Nacht opens with a long orchestral introduction setting the scene in evocative, atmospheric tones leading to the entry of the voice. From then on, voice and orchestra will behave as equal partners, the orchestra evoking the moods suggested by the words with almost endless imagination, invention and subtlety. Though the music is instantly recognisable as Mernierís own, it often reminds us that the composer was a pupil of Philippe Boesmans, whose beautiful Trakl-Lieder are often brought to mind, though this does not imply blunt imitation in any way, rather some affinity in their search for strongly expressive music. An die Nacht is a marvellous piece of music and one of Mernierís finest achievements in his present output.

The Piano Trio, completed in 2003, was conceived as a homage to Schumannís Piano Trio in D minor Op.63, although the music neither directly alludes to nor quotes from Schumannís work. As in the slightly earlier Upon Teares (2002) for viol consort, devised as a set of interludes around Dowlandís Lachrimae, the music functions as a reflection on the older composerís music. It is again entirely personal and completely free of slavish imitation, of pastiche or parody. The Piano Trio is a concise piece in three sections played without a break. The introduction leads into a static, bleak central section that, in turn, leads straight into a final section that attempts to achieve reconciliation. That said the very end of the piece remains ambiguous and does not offer any real resolution.

Now in his early forties, Benoît Mernier has proved himself more than a promising young composer. His substantial and varied output demonstrates the breadth of his vision, his ability to realise it with imagination and with strongly expressive music. The vocal works recorded here augur well of the opera based on Wedekindís The Awakening of Spring on which Mernier is presently at work.

This release is most desirable in that it perfectly complements Cyprèsís earlier recordings of Mernierís music (CYP 4612 and CYP 4613, both of which I reviewed here some time ago), both for the quality of the music and for the excellence of the performances.

Hubert Culot

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