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Edgar Allan POE (1809-1849)
The Raven (1845) [14:46]
Toshio HOSOKAWA (b. 1955)
The Raven - monodrama for mezzo and twelve players (2011-12) [46:04]
Charlotte Hellekant (mezzo and narrator)
United Instruments of Lucilin (André Pons-Valdès (violin); Tomoko Kiba (violin); Danielle Hennicot (viola); Christophe Beau (cello); Jean-Daniel Hégé (double bass); Sophie Deshayes (flutes); Nozomi Ueda (clarinets); Olivier Sliepen (saxophones); Philippe Ranallo (trumpet); Claude Origer (trombone); Pascal Meyer (piano); Guy Frisch (percussion))/Kentaro Kawase
rec. Aster Plaza Hall, Hiroshima; 29 & 31 October 2014
NAXOS 8.573724 [60:50]

We need to be sure about what is on offer from this CD. You get 15 minutes of the Swedish mezzo reading Poe's famous poem in vivid atmospheric style - it's not a penny-plain reading. After this comes the Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa's setting of the same poem, part narrated and part sung by Hellekant, the dedicatee of The Raven. The latter is termed a 'monodrama'. It's a freewheeling piece heard here in a single 46-minute track. This is a pity as the music would have lent itself to a more accommodating artistic learning and listening experience if it had been subdivided.

Hellekant is well known in the worlds of art-song, orchestral song and opera. I immediately think of her roles in Nystroem's Sinfonia del Mare and Sibelius's Kullervo. There's an uncloying openness about her voice and she has a memorably intelligent and emotional way of projecting words, mood and meaning. Her delivery as narrator of the poem is intimate, close to the ear, invading the listener's space in an agreeable way. Her speaking voice reminds me of that of the actress Juliet Stevenson. She is very creative with the presentation and shading of the words. Phrases creep out word by word or in a frictionless rush. Resignation, despair and wan passion are all intimately immediate.

Much the same applies to the Hosokawa setting which presents a volatile world of towering power and danger. The music is lapidary, open of texture, brimming with turbulent detail. The musical elements are occasionally dissonant and the twelve instruments contribute with unusual techniques. The wind instruments in particular are called on to make breathy huffing noises and groans as well as more conventional sounds. Hellekant speaks and sings, encompassing mental disturbance, lassitude, anxiety and emotional accelerant. Every detail feels commandingly delivered. The monodrama was recorded in the presence of the composer.

This disc joins two Hosokawa discs on this label: Vol. 1 (Horn Concerto / Lotus under the Moonlight / Chant - Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Jun Märkl 8.573239) and Vol. 2 (Woven Dreams / Blossoming II / Circulating Ocean (Märkl) 8.573276) and his flute music which is reviewed here. These in turn contribute to a well furnished Japanese classical music library on Naxos: Ifukube, Akutagawa, Abe, Matsudaira, Ohguri, Yamada, Mayuzumi, Hashimoto (review review), Moroi, Yashiro and Hayasaka. There's even a Japanese Orchestral Favourites album.

The booklet notes are by the composer and are in English. He mentions the shamanic element he finds in women protagonists in his music and finds in them an agency to link the temporal and spiritual worlds. While lacking female characters this score suggests that Hosokawa might well find much of musical value in Poe's extended chimeric tale, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.

Hosokawa, Poe and Hellekant share the headlines here and not necessarily in that order.

Rob Barnett



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