La Jeune France
Andre Jolivet: Epithalame
Oliver Messiaen: 5 Rechants
Jean Yves Daniel-Lesur: Le Cantique des Cantiques
The Sixteen/Harry Christophers
Coro COR16023 Total time: 60:01
Summary for the Busy Executive: Long-overdue focus on two neglected
French masters. Stunning performances.
La jeune France, a loosely-confederated group of composers in the
Thirties, consisted of Andre Jolivet, Olivier Messiaen, Jean-Yves
Daniel-Lesur, and Yves Baudrier. Baudrier, a self-taught composer
and today the least-known member of the group, was the main force
behind its formation and its principal financial backer. Messiaen and
Daniel-Lesur had known one another since boyhood and had taken classes
at the Conservatoire together. Jolivet, Varese's only European pupil,
provided a wide knowledge of the European avant-garde, including the
works of Bartok, the Schoenberg circle, and even Charles Ives and Varese
himself. In many ways, it lacked a particular direction, unlike the
theoretical unanimity of the Schoenberg group and the Stravinsky-and-Satie
aesthetic bias of Les Six. It had formed mainly to get the composers'
scores heard. A vague manifesto by Baudrier accompanied its concerts
and spoke of wanting less abstraction, more spirituality, and more
"humanity" in music. Frankly, French music already had that in Honegger,
Milhaud, and Poulenc, not to mention Ravel. As a group, it definitely
lacked some center that would make it cohere, despite the great worth
of its members' scores. Indeed, today we tend to think of all these
men as individual composers, rather than as members of a group.
I believe all three of the works here were written with the Ensemble
vocal Marcel Couraud in mind. It may have been the only French choral
group at the time that could have done justice to them. They all require
a crack chorus. Harry Christophers's Sixteen surely qualify.
Jolivet occasionally attracts the interest of some star performer and
then sinks below listener radar again. Seeking out his works, especially
his concerti, will yield rewards. As with the Swiss-Dutch Frank Martin,
there's a great deal of extremely good work awaiting the adventurous
listener. Although he studied with Varese, his mature work sounds nothing
like, resembling more the Honegger of the Thirties and Forties. Jolivet's
search for "spirituality" tended toward the primitive and the exotic.
The Epithalame, written to commemorate the Jolivets' twentieth anniversary,
combines nonsense syllables and a text on seeking a Jungian Eternal
Feminine with choral writing that, like Stravinsky's Le Sacre, strives
for an elemental power, mainly through rhythm.
Messiaen, although attracted to the primitive, also explicitly put his
spirituality in service of the Catholic Church and indeed on the group's
programs provided notes which announced his religious intent. The Cinq
Rechants (5 refrains), like the Jolivet, set composite texts of French,
Sanskrit, and nonsense in a Surrealist mix, which has something to do
with the Tristan legend, according to the composer. The work seems
musically modeled on, again, Le Sacre and on the Renaissance chansons
of Claude le Jeune, particularly on the sumptuous "Revecy venir du
printemps." Yet whereas the Jolivet strips his idiom to bareness,
Messiaen approaches a more orchestral range of texture.
Daniel-Lesur is certainly the least-known of the composers here.
Indeed, this is only one of two scores by him I've ever heard, but
based on these two, I'm more than willing to take a chance on anything
else. Undoubtedly the most conventional work on the CD, his Cantique
des Cantiques (song of songs) fully lives up to the lushness of the text.
The harmonies owe more to Debussy than to Stravinsky, and the textures
aim more openly for richness. Still, counterpoint, not chords, is the
name of the game here, as Daniel-Lesur sets the Solomonic verses against
a Miserere (in the third section) and "Veni sponsa Christi" in the finale,
thus tying to the Christian tradition of glossing the poem's eroticism
as a metaphor for the soul's longing for Christ. For most listeners,
this will be the most gorgeous work on the disc, and, although I hold
out for the Messiaen, I wouldn't quarrel with the choice.
As I've said, even to get through any of these works requires a
crackerjack group. Harry Christophers's Sixteen has always been a
favorite over a wide range of repertoire, from Renaissance to Modern.
I like their characteristically lean sound, especially appropriate to
the Jolivet. Their diction, however, could stand improvement. With
the text in front of you, you can't always tell what they sing, although
it's not bad enough to mar rhythmic precision. I would also have preferred
clearer textures in the Daniel-Lesur. Even with earphones I could hear
neither the Miserere nor large parts of the "Pose moi comme un sceau sur
ton coeur" (set me as a seal upon your heart). Nevertheless, in spite
of this, it's a staggeringly fine performance, by far the best of the
currently-available. For hard-core choral fans, one of the albums of
The CLASSICAL mailing list is powered by L-Soft's renowned LISTSERV(R)
list management software together with L-Soft's HDMail High Deliverability
Mailer for reliable, lightning fast mail delivery. For more information,
go to: http://www.lsoft.com/LISTSERV-powered.html