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François-Bernard MÂCHE (b. 1935)
L’Estuaire du temps (1993)a [27:16]
Braises (1995)b [20:07]
Andromède (1979)c [30:50]
Elisabeth Chojnacka (harpsichord)b; Michaël Levinas (sampler)a; Jean-François Heisser, Jean Koerner, Gérard Frémy (pianos)c; Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio Franceab; Maîtrise de Radio France, Choeur de Radio France, Nouvel Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio Francec; Elgar Howartha, Pascal Rophéb, Gilbert Amyc
rec. (live) Radio France, Palais des Congrès, Strasbourg, September 1993 (L’Estuaire du temps); Salle Olivier Messiaen, Paris, April 1999 (Braises) and Grand Auditorium, Paris, June 1980 (Andromède)
DENSITE 21 DE002 [78:26]

 

François-Bernard Mâche is a polymath. He studied classical literature and philosophy. He taught literature and philosophy at various universities in France. He translated poems by the Greek writer Elytis. All this says much for his all-embracing concerns which inevitably left their mark on his music-making. Many of his works have titles directly or indirectly alluding to Greek mythology, such as Danae (1970 - chorus and percussion), Kassandra, Styx (1984 – 2 pianos/8 hands), Léthé (1985 – 2 pianos/8 hands) and Andromède (1979) recorded here. In 1985 he joined Pierre Schaeffer’s Groupe de recherches musicales, which also left its mark on his music, in that he often used electronics in many of his pieces, and some of his instrumental or orchestral music is clearly influenced by his work at the GRM. In this he is not alone. Just think of Ivo Malec or the late Pierre Mercure, whose orchestral works also bear the stamp of their work in the field of electro-acoustic music.

The earliest work here dispenses with any electronic or extra-musical devices. Andromède is scored for three pianos, double chorus and large orchestra, although the latter is rarely used in its massive whole. The title inevitably hints at the myth of Andromeda as well as at the eponymous constellation. The titles of many works by Mâche, however, do not mean that the music is either programmatic or descriptive. They rather give some indication as to the extra-musical idea lurking behind the music, and much is left to the listener’s imagination. Of course, many passages from Andromède suggest vast empty spaces, turbulent nebulae and unfathomable mysteries. This substantial tone poem opens with a powerfully arresting gesture: the three pianos’ cascades superimposed onto slowly revolving long soft chords in the orchestra. The music then goes through a mighty kaleidoscope of quickly varying moods, in turn tranquil or agitated, appeased or ominous; and unfolds in waves until it reaches a mighty climax quickly dissolving into nothingness. The music overflows with imaginative orchestral touches in which the wordless choruses are yet another layer. This is an imposing and often impressive piece but its complexity and the large forces involved preclude regular live performances, which makes this recording of the first performance all the more welcome.

In L’Estuaire du temps Mâche uses electronics in scoring this large-scale piece for sampler and large orchestra. Sampled sounds draw on a variety of sources, some quite obvious (ebbing waves, cries of seabirds, whistling wind), some less so (voices speaking in a huge array of human languages). The latter, however, are used for their rhythmic quality and their specific intonation, which sometimes leads to striking expressive results for example when a word is “doubled” by instruments. L’Estuaire du temps is structured in three movements of fairly equal length, almost as a symphony. The first movement opens with sampled sounds of ebbing waves and wind soon joined and echoed by the strings. The music then gains considerable momentum achieved by a remarkable aural imagination, still more clearly in evidence in the second movement, actually a beautifully mysterious nocturne for sampler and orchestra ending with a brief gamelan-like coda. The third movement is a long, sustained crescendo building-up to a massive climax abruptly followed by a rapid thinning-out into the vast emptiness of the horizon.

Written for Elisabeth Chojnacka - who else? - Braises is a concerto for harpsichord and orchestra in two movements. Both brilliantly suggest the fire still present in embers (“braises” in French), which is why the music is on the whole rather restrained, although one clearly feels that the fire could catch again quite easily. The first movement is rhapsodic, whereas the second is a perpetuum mobile, almost minimalist but driven by irrepressible energy, again unfolding as a long crescendo towards a final resonating harpsichord chord.

This generous release is most welcome in that it offers a fine survey of Mâche’s acoustic music. I am sure that it will come as a surprise to many who know Mâche chiefly as a composer of electro-acoustic music. These substantial pieces are remarkable for the sonic imagination they display and for their powerfully expressive strength. These excellent (first?) performances are really very convincing, and well recorded. Strong stuff, for sure, but well worth investigating.

Hubert Culot

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