Frank Martin was a Swiss composer whose first language was French. His major
choral works include this piece, In Terra Pax, Requiem (also
recorded on Jecklin), Golgotha and a substantial set of Rilke songs.
Frank Martin's notes with this set indicate that in 1938 when he was approached
to write a piece of circa half an hour duration for chorus he had been much
taken with Charles Morgan's novel 'Sparkenbroke'. This refers to, and is
imbued with the spirit of, the Tristan story.
Robert Blum whose commission the choral piece was also agreed to Martin adding
seven or eight instrumental parts. These are pairs of violins, violas, cellos,
a double bass and a piano. So was born Part I of Martin's Le Vin Herbé
(the drugged wine). After the premiere of Part I Martin added two more
parts to round out and complete the tale.
On this CD (rather capaciously accommodated in an old style twin CD 'coffret')
the first disc carries Parts 1 (6 tableaux) and 2 (5 tableaux). The third
part (7 tableaux) (42 mins) and the 2.41 Epilogue comes on the second CD.
While the forces are not fully orchestral and cannot even claim to be a chamber
orchestra the effect is quasi-orchestral. The singers, singing as a chorus,
play a largely declamatory narrative role. The music has a touch of Les
Noces about it.
The music is heavy on dynamism and a certain monumental muscularity but light
on colour and short on ecstasy. The dark-tone of the male singers is quite
commanding in a monochrome and monolithic way. Tableau 5 suggests chaos in
a rushing piano part and urgently propulsive strings. That urgency is mixed
with tempered passion and a harsh march. Over the foundation-solid voices
of the choir a female voice rises in resolute stoicism defying an apocalyptic
The second part is all desolation, intensity, little passion and urgent impulse.
Some of the etiolated dreaminess of Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande
is also evident. There is imaginative string writing but all in charcoal
and white light.
Remarkable in Part 3 is the honey-glazed tone of the strings (CD2 track 2
1.55) and the bubbling piano dreamworld of Tableau 4. There is a sense of
hearing a landscape in convulsion through the most vivid playing by the
instrumental ensemble at 4.12 in track 3. In the sixth tableau Martin achieves
a static monolithic effect with the solo violin crying out in concentrated
The text is given in French and English side by side in the case of the sung
words. The notes are by the composer and appear in the original French and
in English translation.
This work represents a sombrely intense experience. You will know if this
work is for you. It is not at all a pinnacle of melodic emotionalism and
you might have expected more passion from the story. It represents rather
a book of woodprints with the pages turned as the story and the roles unfold
in singing. It is beautifully done and is clearly authentic carrying the