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Édith CANAT DE CHIZY (b 1950)
Visio, for 6 voices, ensemble and electronics (2016) [21:34]
String Quartet No 4 ‘En Noir et Or’ (2017) [9:23]
Lament, for solo viola (2015) [7:12]
La Ligne d'Ombre, for orchestra (2004) [8:06]
Missing – Concerto for violin and orchestra (2017) [15:31]
Christophe Desjardins (viola)
Fanny Clamagirand (violin)
Grégory Beller (electronic realisation at IRCAM)
Van Kuijk Quartet
Ensemble Solistes XXI & Ensemble Multilatéral/Léo Warynski
Orchestre Français des Jeunes/David Zinman
Orchestre National De France/John Storgårds
rec. 2016/18, France
No full text but partial translation for Visio included

The music of Édith Canat de Chizy has been well represented in the catalogues over the last fifteen or so years, almost exclusively on French labels. While she has fashioned an enviable reputation across the English Channel she remains somewhat less renowned in the UK, especially when compared to slightly younger compatriots such as Pascal Dusapin and Marc-André Dalbavie. However, this is certainly not a reflection of the quality of her fastidiously constructed, emotionally direct music. The present collection includes premiere recordings of four recent works recorded (and presumably broadcast) by Radio France.

The exception is La Ligne d'Ombre (The Shadow Line) from 2004, an orchestral study inspired by the eponymous Joseph Conrad novella and its account of the tension among the occupants of a ship awaiting a storm. It has been recorded before (on Aeon - review) but is heard here in a superb performance by the French Youth Orchestra under David Zinman. Essentially an eight minute portrait of the nature of the slow passage of time prior to an inevitable, defining happening, it’s skilfully written; long stretches of cymbal-supported strings provide a darkening backdrop, a murky green sea, perhaps; skilfully placed interjections of swirling woodwind and temple blocks provide time markers; an eerie muted trumpet and resounding timpani augur the catastrophe, punctuated by brief, isolated droplets of flute, ominous taps and arabesques of glistening tuned percussion before a violent climax when the elements and their harbingers coalesce, before the stillness returns. The clever orchestration of La Ligne d’ombre is gravid with the implication of repressed, potentially explosive energy. This is a characteristically musical reading from Zinman – if the playing lacks the last ounce of polish, in my view it is technically speaking at least the equal of Peter Csaba’s account with the Orchestre de Besançon Montbéliard Franche-Comté on Aeon and certainly packs a weightier emotional punch.

Canat de Chizy states in her introduction that another kind of energy, viriditas or spiritual energy is central to Visio, the Hildegard-inspired piece that gives the new album its name. Hildegard referred to viriditas both in the scientific sense, for example the biological force that enables plants to thrive and to bear leaves or fruit, as well as in a more metaphorical context, specifically viriditas as a spiritual force that’s intrinsic within humans. The composer has chosen texts which reflect Hildegard’s visions of the universe, one of which refers to the “…collateral winds, (which) move the firmament with the breath of their energy (and…animates) it with a circular motion from sunrise to sundown….” One might equate this in metaphorical terms with biological processes like homeostasis, the cycle which keeps us alive by enabling the body to maintain optimum temperature or levels of appetite. The electronic content of Visio alludes to this cyclical motion and creates an additional layer of acoustic space as well as refracting the sounds of voices and winds. Like these bodily processes, so organically do these sounds emerge in Canat de Chizy’s music that they could almost be perceived as an omnipresent sonic backcloth of which the listener is at times unconscious. Visio comprises a prologue, epilogue and four central sections, and a quasi-literal commentary of the work is incorporated within Michèle Tosi’s detailed note. The sung text involves both French and Latin language; the former is presented as speech to reinforce comprehension by a native audience, whereas the Latin is treated electro-acoustically (it often emerges in the form of very deep bass sound); this duality allows the composer to take advantage of the distinctive sound potentials within both tongues. A rather Ligetian opening involves whispers, glissandi and a plethora of vocalisation strategies. An extensive percussion section is partly used to intensify the ancient and ritual mood – exotica such as Tibetan bowls and water gongs particularly augment this atmosphere. Visio is ultimately the most challenging, personal work here, and it’s vividly realised in this measured performance under Léo Warynski, in what seems like ideal sound.

Another large scale work is Missing, a quarter hour violin concerto; it’s Canat de Chizy’s second attempt at the form after Exultet from 1995, previously recorded by Laurent Korcia on a Timpani disc (review). Where the older work alternates energetic and meditative material throughout its span, Missing is more elusive, often too slippery for the listener to pin down. It was inspired by the untimely death of the Franco-Moldovan violinist Devy Erlih who perished in a car accident in 2012. In this work, the protagonists (soloist and orchestra) are not competing as opposites, rather the orchestra acts as a kind of ‘echo chamber’ for the soloist, a device which creates the musical equivalent of a hall of mirrors. This illusion/allusion strikes one right from the outset of Missing. Canat de Chizy’s superb ear enables her to draw a quasi-electronic glow from the orchestra, but while the work is not without moments of violence, it offers listeners an eventful kind of contemplation rather than the narrative of contrasts which characterises its predecessor. Some of the deep sonorities the composer draws from the orchestra which will challenge listeners’ woofers. John Storgårds leads an urgent, attentive account while Fanny Clamagirand is an agile soloist who makes light of her restless material. The sound once again seems first rate.

The two works for strings have been recorded in a rather resonant acoustic. Listeners may sense that these are the two pieces in this collection that have been most obviously influenced by French spectralism. Canat de Chizy’s fourth string quartet En noir et or packs an abundance of incident into its nine minutes. Inspired by Whistler’s Nocturne in Black and Gold, it’s a brief, colourful primer of string effects (tremolando, sul ponticello, col legno and harmonics prominent among them) which combine to create an impression of a nineteenth century Parisian firework display on the one hand, but attempt on the other to convey the essence of Whistler’s’ subjective experience of fleeting light in rapid motion. A two note pattern weaves in and out of the textures and somehow resembles the sound of a passing modern fire engine (with accompanying Doppler effect). It’s a fine showpiece and provides yet more evidence of this composer’s hypersensitive ear for timbre. If En noir et or is a visceral experience for the listener, one imagines it’s likely to provide a gripping visual spectacle for a live audience. The young Van Kuijk Quartet give a thrilling account; in this case the French Radio recording is subject to some extraneous noise, although it certainly doesn’t blunt the work’s impact. The briefer Lament for solo viola begins with a pronounced sul ponticello which may lead listeners to expect another study of sonic potential. Eventually however its spare melodic material casts an ominous shadow and communicates a sombre, elegiac mood. The composer again demonstrates a profound appreciation of instrumental colour. Christophe Desjardins is a specialist in contemporary viola repertoire and proves a worthy advocate, although his account of Lament has perhaps been too closely miked.

The five works collated here constitute an effective overview of Edith Canat de Chizy’s recent compositional output. Visio and the two orchestral pieces are rich in colour and teem with micro-activity but these attributes never seek to be an end in themselves and consistently materialise to serve the composer’s expressive intention. The other works similarly showcase the composer’s comprehensive understanding of string sound and technique although the quartet arguably operates on a purely kinetic and colouristic level compared to the viola piece. Solstice’s presentation is exemplary – the booklet features succinct introductions to each piece by the composer, with more lucid analysis by Michèle Tosi in a literate translation.

Richard Hanlon

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