- Audio CD (Aug 6 2002)
- SPARS Code: DDD
- Number of Discs: 1
- Label: Universal Music Group
- ASIN: B000068PHA
- Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #204,215 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
|1. Symphony of Psalms - Stravinsky|
|2. Psalm 24: La terre appartient à l'Eternel - Lili Boulanger|
|3. Psalem 129: Ils m'ont assez opprimé dès ma jeunesse - Lili Boulanger|
|4. Vieille prière bouddhique (Prière quotidienne pour tout l'Univers) - Lili Boulanger|
|5. Psalm 130: Du fond de l'abîme - Lili Boulanger|
The much longer Psalm 130 is an extended dramatic cantata based on the famous cry from the depths: "De profundis clamavi ad te Domine." The dark, indeed "profound," effects that Boulanger draws from the orchestra and chorus--concentrating on the low end of the spectrum with grumbling double basses and rolling timpani--mark her as a master colorist. Out of this bleak welter swells a contralto solo, pleading for forgiveness above limpid arpeggios from the orchestra (including the limpid sounds of the harp). Other soloists join in the prayer, interrupted now and again by the chorus still crying from the depths. The opposition is dramatic and highly effective. Though this work is slow in pace, its 27-minute duration seems much less. Fascinating stuff beautifully performed by John Eliot Gardiner's own Monteverdi Choir and the London Symphony.
The Symphony of Psalms is the perfect discmate for Boulanger's music. Boulanger's music may be late romantic and Stravinsky's neoclassical, but both composers produce a highly individualistic approach to the Psalms and to musical praise of God in general, sharing a brooding darkness that is typically Russian (Boulanger's mother was Russian). There are a number of fine recordings of the Symphony in the catalog; Gardiner turns in a performance that can rival most of them, I think. I remember Stravinsky's own recording with fondness; it has a special power others are hard pressed to match. But of course Gardiner has far superior sound: unlike recent recordings from DG, and despite the fact that this is a studio recording, there is a convincing hall ambience, plus a naturalness of balance that is commendable. This is a must-have disc for lovers of 20th-century choral music and should help to rekindle a well-deserved interest in the music of Boulanger.
I learned there have been recordings of Boulanger's Psalm settings around. Igor Markevitch's pioneering recording from the 50's, supervised by Lili's sister, Nadia, has been in and out of the catalogue since it was released. (BBC Legends have recently brought out recordings from the '60's that were conducted by Nadia) Then, in the early '90's a disc on the Timpani label appeared, followed a few years later by Yan Pascal Tortelier's award-winning disc on Chandos. John Eliot Gardiner's new disc surely eclipses all these- his orchestra is the London Symphony, who play with great flare and commitment and his choir are the Monteverdi Choir, who respond ardently to the music, and their French is excellent.
I won't dwell on the sad details of Lili's life but suffice is to say that at 19 she won the Prix de Rome and these Psalms were written during her year-long stay at the Villa Medici, in 1916. She died less than three years later, from Crohn's disease.
What struck me first was how different the three Psalm settings are. Psalm 24, scored for chorus, brass, timpani, organ and harp, is short and fanfare-like, with the use of parallel fifths giving the music a quasi-medieval feel. A solo tenor is highlighted in the languid middle section which forms a beautiful contrast to the outer sections. The coda works to a powerful climax with the women's voices finally coming to prominence. Psalm 129 also brings the men's voices to the fore, particularly the baritones, whose upward-arching lines give the music great expressive impact. Here we discover how sophisticated Lili's sense of harmony is; chords made up of fourths and fifths predominate but the harmonic movement in this music is always sure and strong, one of its most satisfying features. The coda of this Psalm is especially beautiful, with once again, the women's voices entering for the first time but here in wordless vocalise, creating a gentle halo of sound.
Psalm 130 is by far the longest of the three. That this music was written by a 23 year old is astonishing; it seems to describe a whole life experience. There is an amazing passage for the violins not far from the start that sounds as if it were modelled on the Prelude to Act III of Tristan, but making comparisons to other composers is really not useful in describing this music- there is so much originality in it. The climaxes, involving the full weight of the orchestra, are riveting, the gradual movevment towards acceptance and light as satisyingly worked out as say, one of Bruckner's slow movements.
For me this music is a revelation and I hope this disc does something to bring it wider audience. And I can't imagine more persuasive performances of these scores than John Eliot Gardiner's.