Echoes of Autumn and Light: New Chamber Music from Luxembourg
Marcel REUTER (b. 1973)
No Hue of Afternoon (2011) [8:15]
Mezza Voce (2018) [17:21]
Markus BRÖNNIMANN (b. 1968)
El canto quiere ser luz (2020) [9:35]
Georges LENTZ (b. 1965)
Nguurraa (2000, rev. 2020) [11:55]
Camille KERGER (b. 1957)
Lieder des Herbstes (2014) [20:21]
Mariette Lentz (soprano), Kammerata Luxembourg/Camille Kerger
rec. 2020, Concert Hall, Conservatoire de Musique de la Ville de Luxembourg
TOCCATA TOCN0011 [67:30]
It was, I think, mere coincidence that this disc was released at about the same time as the one I recently reviewed. It is also worth mentioning that none of the composers here were featured on that Naxos disc, so this disc under review sheds more new light on Luxembourg contemporary music.
In fact, the only composer from Luxembourg here to enjoy some fame is Georges Lentz, who has been living in Australia since 1990 and had a few discs devoted to his music: Tall Poppies TP 035 (Caeli enarrant... IV and Caeli enarrant... V), Timpani 1C1184 and the above Naxos disc. Lentz' Nguurraa for clarinet, violin, cello, piano and percussion was composed in 2000 and the final, somewhat enlarged version was revised at the request of Kammerata Luxembourg between 2018 and 2020. That is what we have here. The title means “light” in a language spoken by Aborigines living in central New South Wales. (Incidentally, this is not the first time that Lentz uses such titles for his works, e.g. Monh, Ngangkar and others.) The composer writes that “the work is characterised by its overall whispering dynamics, its polarity between a strict crochet rhythm and free graphic notation, between expanded and contracted time, between unison and microtonality”. To my mind, the music as such does not aim at depicting anything in particular other than suggesting some 'vastness of time and space' of sorts and it actually achieves much within its fairly short duration.
Marcel Reuter is a composer new to me, although the notes mention performances of his music in various festivals of contemporary music such as Ars Musica in Brussels. He is represented here by two pieces of considerably different character. No Hue of Afternoon sets a poem by Emily Dickinson and is scored for soprano, flute, clarinet/bass clarinet, horn, violin, viola, cello, double bass and piano. (Incidentally this is the only work here to be scored for a comparatively large ensemble.) Although I still find the poem somewhat enigmatic, as is much of Dickinson’s poetry, it nevertheless abounds in vividly suggestive imagery open to musical interpretation. Reuter rises splendidly to the challenge and his setting is very fine indeed. The second work by him here is his quintet Mezza Voce for flute/alto flute, clarinet/bass clarinet, violin, cello and piano. On the whole, it is a fairly happy piece in which the composer explores a number of musical climates in the course of the work's seven movements, in which the instrumentation is continually varied, from duos to full quintet. Five of the seven movements are quite short and are, as it were, articulated around the two longer movements, i.e. the third section Cantabile, actually a very beautiful piece for clarinet and piano and the sixth section quasi un sogno, which is a brilliant, kaleidoscopic trio for flute, cello and piano. All in all, I for one found Mezza Voce a most engaging piece of music that should be heard more often.
Swiss-born Markus Brönnimann was trained as a flautist (he is principal flute of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Luxembourg and also plays in Kammerata Luxembourg). As a composer, he studied composition with Claude Lenners to whom the piece recorded here is dedicated. The title of El canto quiere ser luz (“The song wants to be light”) is taken from Federico Garcia Lorca and may suggest “an atmosphere of mystery” (the composer's words) and, true to say, the opening of the piece does not seem to have a very definite goal, in that the instruments seem to be struggling to get together but, as the work unfolds, the music tends to coalesce. At the end, the cello has the last word, rising stepwise “until its song becomes light”. This is yet again a very fine work which repays repeated hearings.
Camille Kerger is almost the veteran here, since he was born in 1957 and has been (and still is) quite active on the musical scene in Luxembourg and elsewhere in his capacity as both composer and conductor for many years. His Lieder des Herbstes is the longest work here and indeed quite a substantial one. The words of this song cycle for soprano, flute/alto flute/piccolo, clarinet/bass clarinet, violin, cello and piano are derived from various sources: three songs are settings of short Japanese poems and of John Keats' To Autumn, which constitutes the heart of the piece. Its three stanzas are interspersed by the short Japanese poems (in German translation) which set the scene or meditate on one or other aspect of autumn. However, Kerger chose to set the Keats' stanzas in reverse order, so that the very last song of the cycle is the first stanza of the poem in an attempt “to convey on the one hand retrospection and regret for what has been lost and, on the other, the rich harvest of a fulfilled life” (the composer's words). The various texts allow for a huge variety of musical atmospheres, in turn nostalgic and happy, dreamy and energetic, and eventually fully appeased.
All performances are first rate as everyone sings and plays with wholehearted commitment and the recording is excellent. Short biographies and notes by the composers are included, as well as the sung texts. All this makes for a most worthwhile release which again sheds some light on a somewhat neglected byway of the contemporary musical scene. At the risk of repeating myself, this release is well worth exploring, for there is really much to enjoy here.