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Thierry Escaich (b. 1965)
Exultet - Oeuvres  Vocales
Three Motets (1998) [5:57, 4:12, 2:20]
Les Lamentations (du prophète Jérémie) (1998) [10:15]
Terra Desolata (2001) [8:53]
Exultet (2005) [6:47]
Ad Ultimas Laudes (1993) [10:29]
Dixit Dominus (2002) [4:01]
In Memoriam (2002) [6:59]
Thierry Escaich (organ); Pierre Eric Nimylowcyz , Gabriel Grosbard (violin); Françoise Rojat (viola); Tormod Dalen (cello); Caroline Delume (theorbo); Francois Saint-Yves (orgue positif); Bertrand Chamayou (piano); Florent Jodelet (percussion); Francois Desforges (timpani).
Ensemble Vocal Sequenza 9.3/Catherine Simonpietri
rec. Salle César Franck of the Schola Cantorum, Paris, (Terra Desolata and Exultet) 30 June 2005 and at St. Etienne-du-Mont, Paris, 26-28 June 2005 (all other works)
Accord 476 9074 [61:88]

The operative term here is “oeuvres vocals” (vocal works). Although the above details will give the impression of a disc of choral works, this is actually eight pieces for an ensemble of individual vocal soloists, occasionally accompanied by instruments. Only the last work, written for the centenary of Duruflé, can be considered a “choral” work in the traditional sense. Thierry Escaich is best known as a soloist and improviser - at Duruflé's former post of St. Etienne du Mont - and as a composer of large works for orchestra and voices with orchestra. This disc shows works of a more intimate character, although they are equally demonstrative of the power of Escaich’s writing.

Eschaich's works usually involve multiple planes of harmony and rhythm which are frequently connected motivically. Instruments frequently go their own way or perhaps have their own plane. The disc divides into three parts. The Three Motets are early works with a single vocal line accompanied by voices chanting, the whole alternating with organ glissandi.

There is a lot of responsorial work between the voices and the organ. The vocal soloists’ intonation is lovely with the various lines combining and separating very impressively. The Lamentations and Terra Desolata form a two-part Tenebrae service which leads into the Exultet. This last and Terra Desolata are the only pieces on the disc requiring any instruments besides the organ. The use of piano and organ in Exultet is especially interesting and this work as a whole has to be a highlight of the disc with the Lamentations showing a large jump in maturity from the nearly contemporaneous Three Motets. Terra Desolata is not quite as interesting vocally, but shows imagination in its use of “Baroque Instrumental Ensemble”. The next work, Ad Ultima Laudes, relies on a sprecht-stimme style and is a contrast of light and dark textures with the plainchant Kyrie running throughout. This work and Terra Desolata are quoted extensively in the Dixit Dominus, a much simpler work than those heard up to now. It is the most concentrated and direct piece on the disc and dies off into nothingness in an original way. As said above, the In Memoriam is a homage to Duruflé, very evocative of that composer’s unique atmosphere with an organ part to match. It too dies away into nothingness. 

In terms of performance Ensemble Sequenza 9.3 is practically flawless. Not only do they have an association with the composer going back to the origins of the ensemble but they are masters of making the different lines sound distinct from each other while not losing the overall form of the work. This is especially evident in the Terra Desolata and Dixit Dominus. 

If the French have a certain advantage over other countries when it comes to modern vocal ensemble music it is due to their support of ensembles like this - the disc is funded by no less than seven different governmental authorities. Unfortunately one cannot be equally unreserved about the recording quality of this disc. The pieces recorded at St. Etienne-du-Mont come through with all their multiplicities intact. But the two pieces with multiple accompanying instruments sound muffled in the Salle César Franck. This is not the fault of the players or of the engineers-the room just does not lend itself to complicated music of this sort. However, this is a small price to pay given the commitment of the performers and the intensity of the music. 

William Kreindler 


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