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André LAPORTE (b. 1931)
CD 1 – Orchestral Works
Jubilus (1969)a [8:40]
Nachtmusik (1970)b [13:00]
Transit (1979)c [14:05]
Fantasia-Rondino con tema reale (1988)d [8:53]
De ekster op de galg (1989)f [8:36]
Concerto grosso (2000)g [11:04]
Solisten van het Symfonieorkest van de BRT/André Laportea ; Evgueni Bushkov (violin)d ; BRTN Filharmonisch Orkestbdf ; Symfonieorkest van de BRTc ; Vlaams Radio Orkestg ; Alexander Rahbaribdf, Hiroshi Wakasugic, Koen Kesselsg
rec. Brussel, Flagey, 1971 (Jubilus), 1991 (Nachtmusik), 1979 (Transit) ; Magdalenzaal, Brussels, 1995 (Fantasia-Rondino, De ekster op de galg) and Martelarenplein, Leuven, 2001 (Concerto grosso)
CD 2 – Vocal works
La Vita non è Sogno (1972)a [37:45]
De Profundis (1968)b [8:10]
Testamento de Otoño (1990)c [13:54]
Roland Bufkens (tenor), John Bröcheler (baritone), Michel Lefebvre (flute), BRT-Koor, Symfonieorkest van de BRT/Gianpiero Tavernaa; BRT-Koor/Vic Neesb; Dale Duesing (baritone), BRTN Filharmonisch Orkest/Alexander Rahbaric
rec. Flagey, Brussels, 1974 (La Vita non è Sogno), 1992 (Testamento de Otoño) and 1980 (De Profundis)
Texts and translations
CD 3-4 – Das Schloss (1980-5)
Bjørn Waag (baritone - K.); George-Emil Crasnaru (bass - Der Gemeindevorsteher); Mario Taghadossi (baritone - Barnabas); Christoph Homberger (tenor - Bürgel); Philip Sheffield (tenor - Der Lehrer); Donald George (tenor - Jeremias); Marcel Rosca (bass - Der Herrenhofwirt); Willem Richter (tenor - Der Brückenhofwirt); Lena Lootens (soprano - Frieda); Johanna Dur (alto - Gardena); Emily Rawlins (soprano - Olga); Lucienne van Deyck (mezzo-soprano - Amalia - Mizzi); BRTN Mannenkoor - BRTN Filharmonisch Orkest/Alexander Rahbari
rec. Magdalenzaal, Brussels, 1995
Libretto in German only
FUGA LIBERA FUG523 [4 CDs: 64:53 + 60:03 + 62:11 + 54:00]

 

Experience Classicsonline


André Laporte is one of the most important Flemish composers of his generation. His substantial and hugely varied output includes instrumental works for various combinations, orchestral and vocal music as well as a large-scale opera Das Schloss based on Kafka’s novel.

His music is mostly atonal, and at times serial although he also went through a brief minimalist period with short works such as Chamber Music (1975, soprano and instruments) and A Flemish Round (1980, four players). From a quite early stage of his composing career, he showed an inclination towards polystylism mixing strongly dissonant, atonal music with more overtly diatonic material. This may be heard in the early Nachtmusik as well as in the much later De ekster op de galg, Passacaglia serena (1994) and the three-act opera Das Schloss. This should not be considered mere eclecticism, but rather an attempt to achieve maximum expression. Laporte’s polystylism may also reflect the composer’s natural irony.

This generous compilation consists of recordings made over a long period of time, some of which have been previously released commercially. The featured works span some thirty years and therefore provide a fair appreciation of his output and musical progress.

The first disc is entirely devoted to orchestral works composed between 1969 and 2000. Jubilus for brass and percussion is short with a somewhat misleading title for there is none of the celebratory character that one might have expected. The piece, conceived as a long crescendo, opens almost inaudibly with percussion. As the music unfolds, aleatoric notation is used and is sometimes reminiscent of the Polish composers of the 1960s such as Łutosławski and Penderecki. The music ends abruptly. In Nachtmusik (“Night Music”), one can already spot some of Laporte’s polystylism in that the music juxtaposes, confronts and opposes serial “night music” (one may think of Bartók) and somewhat distorted quotes from Mozart’s archetypal Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. The music eventually suggests nightmare rather than peaceful contemplation of a starry sky. On the other hand, Transit for large string orchestra is a magnificent study in string writing and stylistically speaking the music remains remarkably coherent throughout. This impressive piece is probably one of Laporte’s finest achievements. Fantasia-Rondino con tema reale for violin and orchestra was composed as the test-piece for the finals of the 1989 Queen Elisabeth Competition. The “tema reale” (“Royal theme”) has nothing to do with Bach’s but is rather a theme on notes derived both from “Belgique” (B-G-E) and from the names of several Belgian kings and queens. Some phrases from the Belgian national anthem La Brabançonne also briefly appear throughout. The bipartite structure is also tailored in such a way that the soloist may display his musicality and sense of line in the Fantasia and his technical virtuosity in the Rondino. This concise work perfectly served its aim as a test piece but the performance heard here also proves that it is quite satisfying musically. I must admit that De ekster op de galg (“The Magpie on the Gallows”) is one of my favourites here and not only because it is inspired by a much loved painting by Peter Breughel. Breughel’s painting is one of his most beautiful landscapes; but its surface is deeply deceptive. The dominating feature is the huge dark gallows upon which the magpie seems to be pondering upon “thoughts too deep for words”. At the foot of the gallows, there is a newly-dug grave and a cross, although neither dissuades the country folk from dancing. In the background there is a sun-bathed city - maybe Brussels. The painting, however, was made at the time of the Spanish occupation under the Duke of Alba, so that it may also suggest those dark terrible times through ominous undertones. Laporte turned the piece into a colourful overture or tone poem that reflects the various sights in the canvas. Woodwind and strings suggest the peaceful beauty of the landscapes, darker harmonies hint at the grave. A clarinet soliloquy represents the magpie and a bright chorale for brass and percussion the sun-bathed city. All these various materials are combined in a most satisfying way that results in a very fine and attractive work that should become popular as a concert opener. The quite recent Concerto grosso for wind orchestra, celesta and percussion was composed at the eve of the new millennium. It is, to my mind, a fair example of Laporte’s present music-making in that it successfully blends serial and tonal elements to great effect. After the arresting opening gesture, the music spells out a twelve-tone row that will be used later in various guises but that will often be confronted with more tonal material until reconciliation is achieved in the short epilogue.

Aside from the three works and the opera recorded here Laporte’s vocal output is not particularly abundant. To these, one may add a substantial Blake setting (Eight Songs of Experience for mixed chorus – 1979), a short Shakespeare piece for high voice and piano (How soft, when thou, my music… - 1992) and Momenti d’estasi on a text by Umberto Eco composed as a test piece for the semi-finals of the 2000 Queen Elisabeth Song Competition as well as the already mentioned short Joyce setting (Chamber Music for soprano and four instruments – 1975). One might also add the Quasimodo cantata Le Morte Chitarre for tenor, flute and strings composed in 1969, later incorporated into his substantial masterpiece La Vita non è Sogno. Laporte’s earliest choral work De Profundis was composed for and dedicated to Vic Nees who conducted the first performance. For most of its duration, this is a fairly traditional setting of the Latin text, albeit with a few interpolations in English. It is one in which the composer blends various techniques - tonal, serial and modal - to achieve his expressive aims. As already hinted, the Quasimodo cantata La Vita non è Sogno for speaker, tenor, baritone, flute, chorus and orchestra is one of Laporte’s major achievements and, to my mind, one of his masterpieces. This substantial work is a setting of various poems by Salvatore Quasimodo. It also includes an impressive “war” section setting a text by Marinetti to great dramatic effect. The Quasimodo poems chosen by Laporte were written at different stages of the poet’s life, so that they “clearly and without any ambiguity reflect as a whole the inner evolution of the artist, his permanent strife for a positive conception of life and an ever-growing understanding between artist and society” (the composer’s words). The cantata opens with a prologue Alla Nuova Luna set for narrator and orchestra. There then follow three settings of poems that Quasimodo wrote when he was a member of the so-called Florentine Hermetism, the third being an a cappella setting of Ed è subito sera (“And suddenly it’s evening” - also set by Elizabeth Lutyens). A short, brutal orchestral interlude for brass and percussion introduces what one might refer to as the “war” section, opening with a stirring setting of Alle fronde dei salici opening with the words “And how could we ever sing/with a stranger’s foot upon our breast/amidst the dead abandoned on the squares/on the ground hardened by the frost…” set for narrator, vocalising chorus and orchestra. The next poem Uomo del mio tempo (“The man of our time”) is for baritone and orchestra using highly expressive recitation, sometimes verging on Sprechgesang. The next is the striking setting for speaking chorus of Marinetti’s Il bombardamento di Adrianopoli in which what sounds to me like pre-recorded material is used to enhance a powerfully dramatic impact. This ends with a short epilogue featuring the words “Forget your fathers, young people”, a straight condemnation of the older generation and an appeal to the young to build a better world. Il mio paese è Italia (“My country is Italy”) for narrator and orchestra again recalls the past’s atrocities while paying heart-felt tribute to the poet’s country. This section functions as an introduction to Le morte chitarre (“The Dead Guitars”) in which the poet colourfully evokes Italy. Again set for narrator, chorus and orchestra, the final section is far from overtly optimistic (“Yet, what do you want, you vermin of Christ?/Nothing happens in the world and man/is still clasping his raven’s wings/below the rain and shouts love and dissonance…”). It concludes the work in disillusioned undertones. The much later Testamento de Otoño (“Autumn testament”) is another substantial piece for baritone, strings and harp deploying an eponymous poem by Pablo Neruda, of which Laporte only sets the last part Recomendaciones finales (“Final recommendations”). The poet seems to take leave of his readers and looks back at his life, while eventually coming to the conclusion that one thing remained constant throughout his entire artistic life: his belief in poetry and art. This can also apply to Laporte’s oeuvre as a whole.

The libretto of Laporte’s three-act opera Das Schloss was devised by the composer who based it on Max Brod’s dramatised version of Kafka’s eponymous, unfinished novel. The novel expresses all the typical concerns found in many other works by the writer: the difficult relationship between human beings, the incommunicability, the absurdity of administration and the like with many references and allusions to a number of mythological characters drawn from antiquity and also from Wagner’s operas as well as some contemporary subjects close to the writer. For example, in the only choral passage in the opera (Act 1 Scene 3), the servants sing a short text by Jaroslaw Hasek, the author of The Good Soldier Schweik). Kafka’s novel may be read in many different ways; and Laporte, who has known and admired the novel for many long years, has obviously given much thought to its various possible meanings while considering it as the subject of his opera. Such inquisitive questioning about the novel also had an influential impact on the musical setting. While quintessentially Laporte throughout, it includes brief quotes from and allusions to other composers’ music, such as Wagner and Berg.

The story may be told fairly easily. A cold dark winter night, K. arrives in a village recoiling at the foot of a high hill on which stands the ominous shadow of the Castle. K. is supposed to become the new surveyor employed by the Castle’s administration. Having found rustic lodging at the Bridge Inn, he learns that his work permit has not been granted. K. tries to obtain it from the Castle’s authorities. All in vain, for he is bluntly told that no surveyor is needed but that he might accept a small job as the school’s warden. He confronts the absurd behaviour of the Mayor, his so-called assistants - assigned to spy on him - and several others that are unable to give him any assistance. He eventually meets Bürgel, an official from the Castle, who seems at first willing to help him although this is not his prerogative. Bürgel embarks on a long speech about the greatness and strong organisation of the administration at the end of which K. falls asleep.

As already mentioned, Laporte draws on a wide-ranging technical palette, in which tonal and atonal elements clash, confront and enhance in a never-ending expressive search. Most of the time, however, the music is quite close to that of Berg’s Wozzeck, and it achieves its many expressive aims in a most successful way. Laporte’s opera is undoubtedly one of his most substantial works as well as being a musically successful synthesis of his music-making painstakingly refined and perfected over the years. That this powerful opera has not yet achieved the same status as Wozzeck is an inexplicable mystery. I really hope that the present re-issue of this recording made after the first performances in Brussels will trigger renewed interest in one of the finest operas of the late 20th century.

These recordings were made over of long period, but the earliest ones have been superbly transferred while the more recent ones retain their excellent digital lustre. This generously filled boxed set provides the best possible survey of the varied and substantial output of one of the most important Flemish composers of the second half of the 20th century. We must be thankful that he is still active in these early years of the 21st century too.

Hubert Culot


 


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