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CLASSICAL  January 2009

CLASSICAL January 2009

Subject:

Psalms by Boulanger & Stravinsky

From:

James Tobin <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 14 Jan 2009 09:23:19 -0800

Content-Type:

text/plain

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LILI BOULANGER
Psaume 24 for chorus, organ and orchestra
Psaume 129 for chorus and orchestra
Vielle Priere bouddhique for tenor, chorus and orchestra
Du fond de l'abime (Out of the Depths), Psaume 130 for contralto,
tenor, chorus, organ and orchestra

IGOR STRAVINSKY
Symphony of Psalms, for chorus and orchestra on texts from Psalms 38,
39, and 150

John Eliot Gardner conducting The Monteverdi Choir and the London
Symphony Orchestra
Sally Bruce-Payne, mezzo-soprano; Julian Podger, tenor
Deutsche Grammophon  289 463 789-2.  68.08

Had she not died at the age of 25, Lili Boulanger (1893-1918) would,
by many acounts, be regarded as a major French composer.  As it is, her
compositional accomplishments overshadowed those of her better- known
sister Nadia, who mostly gave up composition and devoted her life to
training many American neo-classical composers.  As it is, currently at
Arkiv there are 35 recordings of Lili's music and on Amazon there are
eleven.  There have been at least two books devoted to Lili Boulanger's
short musical career: LeIonie Rosenstiel's 'Life and Works of Lili
Boulanger'; and Caroline Potter's 'Nadia and Lili Boulanger'.  She read
music at age two and a half; at five Faure accompanied her on his songs;
she began serious study of harmony at six, and at nineteen won the Prix
de Rome with a cantata, Faust et Helene, which Debussy praised.  The
works on this recording date from 1916 and 1917 and they impress me much
more than the few other works by her I have heard.  This is music that
is both powerful and beautiful.

At about twenty seven and a half minutes, Du fond de l'abime is the
longest work on this disc, although the text is relatively short.  Its
first minutes are soft and quiet--the chorus even seems to sigh at one
point--but by a third of the way through it becomes first quietly then
fiercely dramatic, with brass, drum rolls and loud singing.  There is a
big crescendo augmented by the organ toward the end.  The orchestration
is impressive, but does not overwhelm the strong voices, and is often
quiet; there is an opportunity for the mezzo to have solos and for the
tenor and mezzo to sing together over light accompaniment.

Psalm 24, which opens the disc, is less than four minutes long but
begins with a powerful fanfare and the male choir sings full out.  It
softens and slows, with a horn solo, but again becomes emphatic with
brass and organ.  Psalm 129, at seven and a half minutes, opens with
slow and low thrusting tones and the orchestra plays for two minutes
before the chorus enters powerfully; there is rising tension and emphatic
rhythm with beating drums, but at the end voices become gentler and the
female choir sings wordlessly over the males and then alone.

The Buddhist prayer (eight and a half minutes) opens slowly and
beautifully with the male choir accompanied by a higher vocal line; high
strings play later also.  There is a nice Debussy-like flute solo.  The
tenor is not heard until the mid-point.  The final minutes are loud and
powerful.

The commentator Roger Nichols says that "the music of these four works
was not what a well-brought-up jeune fille was expected to produce, let
alone one in poor health".  He also notes that her melodic lines are
"extraordinarily bold and wide-ranging, often negating any sense of key."
She makes use of semitones.

**************

The Stravinsky performance is excellent and the recording is better
than the recent Rattle release, which I have reviewed here, so I am
not going to say much about the work in this one.  The first movement
strikes me as just about perfect.  The oboe solo opening the middle
section is quite satisfying and the Monteverdi Choir is impressive here,
as in the Boulanger.  The male voices are especially powerful.  The
gorgeous "laudate" movement is well paced, well articulated in the
staccato passages and has subtle dynamic emphases in the legato ones.
I was struck by a beautifully built crescendo near the midpoint of the
movement.

Strongly recommended.

Copyright 2009 R. James Tobin

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