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Maurice OHANA Office des Oracles (1974) & Mass (1977) Choeur Contemporain, Musicatreize (Roland Hayrabedian) Opus 111 OPS 30-246 [71'13"]
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A very exciting release, and perhaps the easiest of three recent CDs with which to approach this important composer. The voice is central to the music of Maurice Ohana (1914-92), and for his explorations beyond the frontiers of equal temperament. His roots were Mediterranean and he derived the third-tone, used in these two works, from Andalusian flamenco, where it is successfully combined with equal temperament harmony in the guitar accompaniments. Ohana uses both systems together in the same works.

Even more radical and significant to us, in view of recent developments in UK, is that both these works were specifically composed for amateur and professional performers working together. He succeeded in retaining all the innovative features of his musical language whilst keeping within the reach of amateurs. That is no mean feat! There is now a very active movement in England, spearheaded by 'COMA' (Contemporary Music for Amateurs) and a growing body of uncompromisingly idiomatic contemporary music for amateurs to play and sing (see CD review of Spectrum). Ohana can be regarded as one of the pioneers in that field.

The familiar text is treated by Ohana in his Mass (1977) as an archetype, and the music taps both ancient liturgical music and that of our own time, with solo vocal lines supported by choir and instruments to provide harmony and colour. The Alleluia turns the ensemble into a huge pealing of bells, and there is an exultant peak in the Sanctus. The longer Office des Oracles (1974) is a major work for four female soloists, two choirs and an instrumental ensemble of fourteen players, constituted with wind, brass, keyboards and percussion predominating. There are three conductors for the Office, pictured relaxing in a giant grape-crushing tub outside the XIth C. Abbiatale Saint-Foy.

The notes with this Ohana CD (as well as for timpani 1C1044, also reviewed for MotW) are provided by Harry Halbreich, knowledgeable champion of a group of twentieth century composers whom he regards as having been unwarrantably side-lined. He has written ' - - - if such obvious innovative geniuses as Maurice Ohana and Giacinto Scelsi are excluded, then musical history - - should be re-written - - -'. I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Maurice Ohana, not long before he died, a kindly, unpretentious man (see the note by the conductor Roland Hayrabedian - above left) who appeared not put out that only half a dozen of us attended his pre-concert talk at St John's, Smith Square.

Halbreich's notes for Opus 111 are informative as ever, but says 'the titles of the twelve sections of Office des Oracles say more about it than any commentary'. So I follow suit, and whet your appetite with these titles: Alpha - Oniracle - Dragon a trois têtes - Minotaur aux miroirs - Son changó - Météoracle - Tarots - Interrogation des oiseaux - Écriture automatique - Oroscope - Pythie - Omega.

The performances and recording (in a chapel at Arles and the abbey at Conques) are beyond reproach. Lavish presentation by Opus 111, with full texts and translations for Oroscope in Office des Oracles and the Mass (Ohana does not set the Credo).


Peter Grahame Woolf


Peter Grahame Woolf

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