THIERRY ESCAICH (b.1965): Cris for Reciter, Chamber Choir, 8 Cellos, 2 Percussions and Accordion, La Piste de Chants for Children’s Choir and Chamber Orchestra, Visions Nocturnes for Mezzo-Soprano, Clarinet, String Quartet and Piano.
Catalogue Number: 05W067
Label: Radio France
Reference: FRF 055
Description: Escaich continues to impress with his originality, versatility, and the brilliant facility with which he achieves memorable and approachable results for a wide range of forces with an equivalent variety of dramatic intent. His works are remarkable for the variety of expression and mood achieved within a consistent harmonic and rhythmic language. Ostinati and restlessly changing meters and pulse lend an exhilarating rhythmic vitality to his broadly and adventurously tonal music, creating a personal idiom that lends itself to powerfully evocative narratives. The Trail of Chants is based on five Native American chants celebrating the inseparable nature of nature and humanity, and expressing reverence for the natural world. Beginning with a thrilling introduction, strongly rhythmic and featuring the Tom-toms prominently, the work alternates slow movements - an ethereal winter nocturne, a mystical meditation with the stately caribou as symbol - and thrillingly propulsive sections celebrating "crazy coyote", ending with an evocation of the tempestuous power of nature. The title of Visions nocturnes suggests a dark work of some sort, but entirely fails to anticipate the depth of shadow into which the music plunges. Setting a text compiled by the composer from Good Friday poems by Charles Péguy, Paul Claudel, Joris-Karl Huysmans and Blaise Cendrars, the piece is a response to Rubens's disquietingly fleshly, corporeal "Descent from the Cross", passing through episodes of stunned despair and horror at the violence implicit in the image, both utilising the composer’s penchant for obsessive ostinati to lend the music a sense of staring, aghast, at a scene from which it is impossible to look away. As fine as these works are, they pale in impact alongside the largest work here, the stunningly original, harrowing Cris, a war requiem in all but name, with some intriguing points of contact with the most famous work with that title. The text of Cris was condensed by the composer from the "polyphonic" eponymous novel by Laurent Gaudé, which follows the thoughts and actions of a number of soldiers in WWI. Their experiences recall the accounts of the war and its consequences in Wilfred Owen's poetry, encompassing terror, horror, gallows humour (Out there / we've walked quite friendly up to Death ...), dreams, and the promise, and reality, of a return to the world outside the war. The music shifts focus from the close-up urgency of the narrator (given a virtuoso's task of delivering the intense, dynamic text) to the grand, universal delivery of the choir, accompanied by the highly effective ensemble of accordion (from which the virtuoso organist-composer draws a range of registration and expression worthy of his own instrument), percussion duo, and an ensemble of cellos - you have to keep reminding yourself that you’re not listening to a full orchestra. The 45-minute work is taut, concentrated, powerful, and ultimately as heartbreaking as Owen's "... each slow dusk / a drawing-down of blinds." Chœur de Radio France, Maîtrise de Radio France, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France; Mikko Frank, Soloists of L’Orchestre National de France.