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.
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.
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
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.
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.