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July 2022

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Isaiah CECCARELLI (b.1973)
Bréviaire d'Epuisements (2008) [51:39]
Emilie Laforest (voice)
Josée Lalonde (voice)
Lori Freedman (bass clarinet)
Philippe Lauzier (bass clarinet)
Pierre-Yves Martel (viola da gamba)
Isaiah Ceccarelli (percussion)
rec. Studio Mixart, Montreal, December 2009. DDD

Experience Classicsonline

This release comes from independent Canadian label Ambiances Magnétiques, established in 1984 to "offer you a large breadth of audacious & avant-garde musics". Bréviaire d'Epuisements is certainly avant-garde; to the average listener, the more pertinent question will be not whether this counts as "audacious", but whether it is actually music.
Canadian percussionist-composer Isaiah Ceccarelli's name is probably unknown to most, but this is in fact the fifth CD by Ambiances Magnétiques on which his music has appeared, all in the last five years. As a performer he also appeared in Quartetski, the jazz ensemble of Pierre-Yves Martel - viola da gambist on this disc. This was on a 2007 CD ominously entitled 'Quartetski Does Prokofiev' (AM 171). The great Russian composer's Visions Fugitives op.22 are there "re-envisioned" in a way which, according to the label's blurb, "remained faithful to the spirit of the Russian composer, imagining how Prokofiev would have orchestrated the Visions had he adapted them to a modern jazz ensemble." Fortunately there is none of that kind of thing on this disc. Although Ceccarelli is better known in Canada as a jazz drummer, there is very little emphasis on rhythm in Bréviaire d'Epuisements. In fact, it sometimes sounds improvised or aleatoric. Far more attention is given by Ceccarelli to textural detail.
However, it must be said that the four percussion 'Solos' that serve as interludes between the eight songs do sound like electronic experimentations, although they have in fact been produced acoustically by Ceccarelli, using bowed-cymbal-type techniques - or what sounds like a cymbal being machine-lathed! The effect, if musical at all, is akin at times to a metallic didgeridoo. For long-in-the-tooth listeners it will bring back school-day memories of fingernails being scraped down blackboards. About halfway through the work, there is also a purely instrumental Intermède ('Interlude') for two bass clarinets, but this is considerably easier on the ears, both instruments fluttering away in a fairly mild-mannered way well within their range.
The 'Solos' do in any case provide a sudden, stark contrast to the voices. The songs are settings of French poems by Marie Deschênes, about whom the CD reveals nothing, although Google yields up her poetry website. The songs are more traditionally musical, though still a long way from lieder or opera. All but one are for both female voices together, and all but one accompanied, quite discreetly and delicately, by at least one bass clarinet, but usually by two and by the viola da gamba. The singing is gentle, ethereal, almost parlando at times.
There is no indication given as to what the title, literally 'Breviary of Depletions', might signify. There is nothing in the music or poetry that especially brings to mind either prayer or exhaustion. Aside from the metal-churning 'Solos', the overall effect of the work is soothing, but not in a numinous sense.
The CD comes in a cardboard wallet without plastic tray - the disc simply slides into a pocket without further protection. The track-listing is printed straight onto the card. Song texts, in French only, and recording details are supplied on a thin sheet of paper which goes in the pocket with the disc. The CD appears to be available only from Ambiances Magnétiques' Canadian distribution site, The price quoted at the time of writing was around a rather pricy £13, though this included shipping.
Well-performed, as far as can be told, in sum this release is not without its attractions, but these are highly idiosyncratic and only really recommendable to those with plenty of cash to spare and a strong urge for avant-garde joyriding.

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