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Georges APERGHIS (b. 1945)
Récitations (1978)
Donatienne Michel-Dansac (voice)
rec. live, Wien Modern Festival, 16 November 2001. DDD


Experience Classicsonline

The name of Georges Aperghis is nowhere near as well known in the UK as it should be. Last year I came across a DVD concerning his life and work (Ideale Audience DVD9DS18 - see review), which comprised a comprehensive documentary, including interviews with the composer. It was entitled Storm Beneath a Skull, and includes a complete performance of his compelling theatre piece, the forty-minute Little Red Riding Hood. Part of the documentary included commentaries on what the present booklet notes referred to as 'the essential' Récitations of 1978. Aperghis accepts that his expectations of his performers are unrealistic. Watching a performer wrestle with Récitations, as the DVD proves, is half of the entertainment/experience. So how does one fare without images?

Aperghis writes almost every sound one can imagine coming via the human voice-box -  and a few others besides. Grunts, whistles, huge leaps, guttural stops, squeaks, squeals and many more sounds make up the vocabulary here. The importance of the CD under review is that it presents the first, live, complete performance. Aperghis works with syllables and phonemes as if they were notes and pitches, so they become part of the timbral/melodic discourse.

Each of the fourteen pieces poses its own problem, then attempts to solve it. There is often performer choice involved in what we hear, as well as the more usual issues as to how it is performed. The score of the second Récitation, for example, can be read from top to bottom, bottom to top, left to right or right to left. The composer's own advice provides probably the best listening strategy: 'we feel at first something and start to think about it only later on, like the way we perceive colours and objects in our childhood or the way we dream'.

Despite the seemingly random nature of the procession of gestures, there is something strangely compelling about the experience as a whole. Performers of this music are special creatures, in that they are willing to extend themselves so much in the service of the music. Donatienne Michel-Dansac is superb in her whole-hearted embracing of the demands placed upon her. She moves from fast-moving syllables to hugely long sustained pitches that are then subjected to transformation into something more closely resembling a muted wail. Another strategy Aperghis uses is to have his vocalist recite one sentence - written below the stave - while pronouncing with their lips, simultaneously, another, different, sentence written above the stave. This results in an effect analogous to bad film dubbing! 

Both composer and performer provide sleeve-notes in an attempt to acclimatise the listener. For all those interested in music which not only pushes the boundaries of the possible but which also, in its end result, justifies itself fully as music, this is required listening. 

The audience is astonishingly quiet throughout, only making its presence known at the very end with its justifiably enthusiastic ovation. 

Colin Clarke







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