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Alina PIECHOWSKA-PASCAL (b. 1958?)
Musique pour la Paix (“Music for Peace”)
Fleurs de l’Espace (1994)a [3:49]
Les Éléments [1994]a,b (La Terre [2:37]; L’Eau [10:22]; Le Feu [2:56]; L’Air [2:27]; L’Espace [3:32])
Au Pays de Neiges (1992)a [3:20]
Proces (1978)c [7:49]
Meditation (1986)a,c [3:16]
Chant sans Paroles (1994)a,c [5:58]
Trois Chansons des Étoiles [1992]b ([7:26]
Lotus Né de l’Eau (1994)a [6:12]
Fleurs de l’Espace [reprise] [3:50]
Alina Piechowska-Pascal (piano, voice, Tibetan singing bowls)a, Florence Angelloz de la Gauthiere (piccolo, soprano flute, alto flute, bass flute)b, Barbara Marcinkowska (cello)c
rec. St. Pierre Evangelical Lutheran Church, Paris, 1995. DDD.
World Premiere Recordings.
QUANTUM QM6956 [64:32]


Experience Classicsonline

Alina Piechowska-Pascal is a self-described minimalist, not in the manner of a Philip Glass, but more along the lines of an Arvo Pärt. She likewise comes from eastern-European roots, starting in the 1970s as a fairly conventional modernist, if the older pieces on this disc are accurate indicators. Like Pärt, Piechowska-Pascal eventually discarded the extravagant gestures of mainstream modernism and developed a fascination with bell-like tones. Specifically, most of the music on this disc is played  with Tibetan singing bowls, whose bell-like resonance casts a golden haze over the carefully chosen notes.

Unlike Pärt, Piechowska-Pascal does not stay within the boundaries of traditional tonality, but her mature music does tend to focus on a limited range of gestures and tones, working around tonal centers. The transition from modernism in the experimental Proces to the ritualistic Les Éléments can be heard in Meditation, a dramatic piece where the composer truly begins to find her voice. 

The disc opens with the composer playing piano and the bowls. Tibetan singing bowls are made from a seven-metal alloy painstakingly hammered into a concave shape. They resonate with the sounds played or sung around them. The different metals and variable thicknesses cause different bowls to ring out in different pitches. The bowls can also be struck to create bell-tones rich with overtones. Fleurs de l’Espace (“Flowers of Space”) bookends this disc with a late-twentieth century equivalent of a French baroque unmeasured prelude, the notes played slowly and freely, calling forth the warm halo of the bowls. Those fearing a sort of syrupy, quasi-mysticism needn’t fear, though, for Piechowska-Pascal’s music is neither sentimental nor easy. The tones played on the piano are questioning, ambivalent. 

The next work, Les Elements, is in five parts. The first part, La Terre, evokes the earth with dense tone clusters on the piano, sending the singing bowls ringing in complex waves of sound. L’Eau brings the addition of an alto flute, played by Florence Angelloz de la Gauthière, in water music that is sensual, almost bluesy in places, as it hovers between major and minor. This music sounds at times like an extension of late Debussy, impressionistic but dark, hanging in a kind of exquisite torture between keys, never quite committing to one. The mood changes at 3:20 with the coming of a more glimmering section and a change to piccolo by the player, but unfortunately the transition is marred by a bad edit, every so slightly cutting off the previous resonance and replacing it with a sliver of dead air before the instruments start the new section. This section is followed by a languorous section for the strange and exotic bass flute. Then the opening returns to close. The third movement, Le Feu, brings frenetic, fiery virtuosity from the piano in music that sounds like a latter-day descendent of Scriabin’s Vers le Flamme. Though effective, it is also a bit wearing at close microphone perspective, which was used throughout the album to catch the ringing of the singing bowls. The succeeding l’Air features the composer singing a chant-like line and ringing bowls as the flautist changes back and forth among instruments. Alas, the ritualistic atmosphere is compromised by the very clearly caught sounds of passing traffic outside the church in Paris where the recording was made. The suite ends with L’Espace, where flute and bowl tones are joined by some Henry Cowell-style playing of the strings of the piano by hand, adding the resonance of the piano’s sustain pedal to the cloud of bell tones. 

Au Pays des Neiges unfolds in cascading, sometimes violent waves over pedal tones in the bass of the piano. Pounding bass tone clusters and cutting high-range chords at its peak overload the close-up recording, causing some distortion. Tolerable over loudspeakers, it can cause one’s eyes to water over headphones. The name of the piece (“From the Land of Snow”) refers to the singing bowls origins in Tibet, and one can’t help but wonder if the violence of the piece is a reference to the struggles of the Tibetan people under the dominance of China, a reading easy to make in light of recent events, with Tibetan protestors attacking the Olympic flame before the Chinese games take place. Considering that the album’s title is “Music for Peace,” it seems reasonable at the very least to take these works collectively as a spiritual statement about the search for peace, harmony and meaning. 

Serving as keystone to the arch structure of the album are the next two pieces, Proces and Meditation. Cellist Barbara Marcinkowska plays the angular, sometimes brutal lines of Proces with verve and commitment. While fairly arresting, it also bears the self-conscious experimentalism of the 1970s in its relentless style. It is at least interesting to search for the seeds of the composer’s mature style in its dense gestures. It is followed by Meditation, from 1986, for piano and cello, where we hear Piechowska-Pascal begin holding on to certain tones for structural stability as the notes explore the area around those stabilizing tones. It clearly points toward where her music was going, even in the way piano tone clusters are softly sounded and held out, sounding much like the ring of the singing bowls to come in her music from the 1990s. The Chant sans Parole from 1994, also for cello and piano, brings this leg of the journey up to the composer’s mature style, simpler yet more potent in gesture. 

Trois Chansons des Étoiles (“Three Songs of the Stars”) are brief solo flute pieces making use of pointillistic colors in the space of silence. Lotus Né de l’Eau again joins ritualistic post-impressionistic piano writing to the ringing bowls in a constantly shifting cloud of sound. One could almost hear the work, with its tolled singing bowls, as a sort of a Zen La Cathédrale Engloutie. Finally, Fleurs de l’Espace returns to bring the arched program back to where it began. 

These pieces sound their most fetching over loudspeakers, where the close-up recording can make the instruments sound as if they are in the room with you, and the occasional rough edit or overly quick fadeout isn’t noticeable the way it is on headphones, where the aggressive levels can distort. Over speakers, though, it works quite well, even if the singing bowls can’t be heard as easily. 

This Quantum disc was recorded in 1994 and originally released shortly thereafter. Hearing Piechowska-Pascal’s ascension from relentless gestural music to something more graceful and meaningful is interesting, and it whets the appetite to hear what she has been up to in subsequent years. Booklet notes are in French, with (awkward) English translations. Not all the information on the back of the booklet, nor the titles themselves, are translated.

Mark Jordan


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