by Karl Nehring
Ravel: Pièce en forme de Habanera; Saint-Saëns: Sonate, op.166; André Jolivet: Controversia*; Messiaen: Vocalise-Étude; Morceau de lecture; Ravel: Deux Mélodies hébraïques; Kaddisch; Milhaud: Vocalise-Étude; Debussy: Syrinx; Koechlin: Le repos de Tityre, op. 216/10; Jolivet: Chant pour les piroguiers de l'Orénoque; Debussy: Petite pièce; Saint-Saëns: Le Rossignol; Robert Casadesus: Sonate, op.23. Heinz Holliger, oboe, oboe d’amore; Anton Kernjak, piano; Alice Belugou, harp*. ECM New Series 2694
Éventail (“Fan”) is the latest of more that two dozen recordings he has made for the label in those roles of composer, conductor, and performer. Introducing his latest recording, Holliger writes: “The fan that opens like cautious butterfly wings, barely opening or timidly closing again, is the reflection of the innermost stirrings of the soul. Through Stéphane Mallarmé’s poem Éventail and its wonderful settings by Ravel and Debussy, the fan opening fold by fold (‘pli selon pli’) became a symbol for the most hidden words, sounds, and colours of French music. The closeness of the oboe to the human voice inspired my idea of opening up the richly coloured fan of French music through the still far too little known collection of Vocalises-Études… It contains works by the most important French composers… ‘songs without words’ in the truest sense.”
This truly is a communicative collection of music with charm and aesthetic appeal. Certainly different listeners will find different favorites from among the selections to be found here; for me, there are two that especially stand out. The first is Controversia by André Jolivet (1905-1974), a composer whose work I have run across only seldomly over the years. To learn more about him, I checked Wikipedia, where I found the following fascinating characterization: “Known for his devotion to French culture and musical thought, Jolivet drew on his interest in acoustics and atonality, as well as both ancient and modern musical influences, particularly on instruments used in ancient times.” Controversiais a bracing and energetic piece, stimulating but rewarding. The other especially interesting piece is Ravel’s Kaddisch. Now, this is a piece with which I am more familiar. The most moving performance I ever heard was from a broadcast of a special memorial concert by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra for the victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting. In that performance, the Ravel piece was played by a solo clarinet, and my goodness, it was moving. Holliger delivers a fine performance as well, playing with warmth and expressiveness. These two are of course not the only two noteworthy tracks: rest assured that the album is a delight from start to finish. With notes by Holliger on all the music in the program and the usual rich, spacious ECM sound quality, Éventail is a highly recommendable release.