So many angels came this day

ConcertClassic - Laurent Bury
The Angels

Métaboles concert at the Musée d'Orsay - So many angels came today - Review

To open its 2023-24 season, the Auditorium of the Musée d'Orsay is offering a midday concert linked to one of its exhibitions, as is customary. To celebrate Louis Janmot (1814-1892), the very mystical painter from Lyon to whom a retrospective is currently devoted, it was logical to propose a religious program, and as his canvases are literally teeming with angels, the ensemble Les Métaboles came interpret the content of his disc The Angels recorded in 2019 and released in 2021. But as the CD lasts barely three-quarters of an hour, a few pieces were added to reach the usual duration of concerts at the Musée d'Orsay.

In relation to the disc, three composers therefore make their entry: Britten, his compatriot John Tavener (1944-2013) and the Estonian Arvo Pärt, the only one still alive. However, the language of Shakespeare remains dominant, Pärt having set to music the modern English translation of an old Gaelic prayer. This reinforcement of works from the 20th and 21st centuries has the effect of isolating a little more the works of Byrd, Purcell and especially Palestrina, the latter's Stabat Mater belonging decidedly to a completely different aesthetic universe, while the two British artists of the 17th century are easier to relate to Jonathan Harvey (1939-2012) who dominates the program. The exhibition notably brings William Blake closer to Janmot, both having been painters and poets, the presence of Blake's poem "The Lamb" set to music by Tavener is thus justified. A Hymn to the Virgin by a sixteen-year-old Britten hardly allows us to detect the strong musical personality that would assert itself a few years later.

In other words, even if it is The Deer’s Cry by Arvo Pärt that Les Métaboles will cover as an encore at the end of the concert, Jonathan Harvey remains the undisputed king of this program. His works prove to anyone who doubts that it is still possible in our time to compose music of religious inspiration which is absolutely not outdated. “Come Holy Ghost” begins by taking up the Gregorian melody of Veni creator, but this is to better distort it, to diffract it between the sixteen voices which form the whole. Harvey tackled liturgical texts as well as modern poems, with always astonishing and beautiful results. Léo Warynski guides his troops with a sure hand through the twists and turns of these scores, and can count on the members of the choir to change into soloists at will when the music requires it, with in the first place the very recognizable timbre of the soprano Anne-Claire Baconnais to name but one.

The Musée d'Orsay thus gives a superb start to a musical season placed under the sign of spirituality, in relation to The Poem of the Soul by Louis Janmot.

The Metaboles hold the angels above the Musée d’Orsay

Resmusica - Patrick Jézéquel
The Angels


The Metaboles hold the angels above the Musée d’Orsay

For the first concert of its season, the auditorium of the Musée d'Orsay invites the Métaboles in a recital of sacred song, "The Angels", resonating with the concomitant exhibition dedicated to Louis Janmot (1814-1892) and entitled : “The Poem of the Soul.”

We knew Les Métaboles were at ease when, with all voices out (nearly 50 in total), they filled the volume of a nave (in this case that of the Vézelay basilica). Here they are in a much smaller space - that of the auditorium of the Musée d'Orsay -, with quiet and fairly dry acoustics, which perfectly suits their squad: sixteen singers. Or even much less, when, at the very beginning, four of them intone the Ave verum corpus (1605) by William Byrd, placed behind the audience, at the back of the room. The effect is striking, especially since we expected to hear their comrades on stage. The Catholic liturgy envelops us in this intimate motet, very slow and very collected. So, today, time for clarity, intensity and conviviality!

The program is based on that of the disc The Angels (NoMadMusic, 2021, Clef d'or ResMusica) augmented by three songs by Benjamin Britten (A Hymn to the Virgin, 1930), John Taverner (The Lamb, 1982) and Arvo Pärt (The Deer's Cry, 2008). Composers from the Renaissance (Byrd, Purcell, Palestrina) and others from the 20th and 21st centuries (Harvey, Britten, Pärt, Taverner), all pious and custodians of a musical culture that they transformed. Twelve songs in all, the combination of which plays on the double picture of polyphonic clarity and a certain contemporary expressiveness (for example, The Deer's Cry by Arvo Pärt, obsessive and sober – two trademarks of this creator – and which will be given again as an encore). Always with this concern to put man, that is to say the believer, at the center, therefore man alone addressing his god, hence the importance given to the text and the exclusivity to the naked voice. It is all the aesthetic interest of a choir reduced to its minimum, which ensures the intelligibility of the song in its different layers. This can be heard more particularly in Come, Holy Ghost (1984) and Plainsongs for Peace and Light (2012) by Jonathan Harvey (1939-2012), which both take up the simplicity of expression of plainsong, which we could be described as a novel. Harvey is also the most present composer this afternoon, with six pieces, surely the most astonishing too, characterized by an incredible refinement, which produces: the mystical character of his inspiration with his personal dimension, an instability maintained between worry and peace (which contrasts strongly with, in particular, the architectural solidity of the Stabat Mater [1580] by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina), swirling harmonies, variations between melisma and syllabic singing, the extreme layering of registers based on chords in drone, or the clever tiling of voices as well as the surprising descending glissandi at the end of Come, Holy Ghost. All these effects are wonderfully rendered by an ensemble attentive to the flexible inflections of the conductor.

Very finely thought out, the sequence of pieces follows several concerns. First, keep the attention of listeners by alternating songs of different characters or levels of complexity. Thus the Ave Verum corpus by William Byrd and Remember not, Lord, our offenses (1681) by Henry Purcell frame A Hymn to the Virgin by Benjamin Britten and three songs by Harvey: I love the Lord (1976), Come Holy Ghost and Plainsongs for Peace and Light. Second, preserve a certain variety, in a stable context, through the regular distribution of solos. We will remember, in Byrd's Ave Verum corpus and Harvey's The Annunciation (2011), the powerful soprano Anne-Claire Baconnais, the alto Aurélie Bouglé as well as the bass Jeroen Bredewold, and, in Come, Holy Ghost, the sublime soprano Amandine Trenc and tenor Benjamin Aguirre Zubiri, whose songs literally fly out of the frame. Third, make a sort of intellectual or cultural nod by following Purcell's Remember not, Lord, our offenses and Harvey's Remember, O Lord (2003), a way of emphasizing an inspiration and a filiation.

The public was able to commune with extremely nuanced singers led by their leader, Léo Warynski, visibly grateful to his musicians and very happy to be among us.

A cleverly arranged program such as Léo Warynski likes

ConcertClassic - Alain Cochard
Symphonie chorale

In concert and on record, Léo Warynski and his Métaboles spoil us! We found the conductor and his choristers at the Rencontres musicales de Vézelay, on August 25, for what constituted their first appearance as part of the event as an ensemble associated with the Cité de la Voix (until 2025) ; an appointment all the more eagerly awaited as the Métaboles presented themselves in large numbers in a program including one of the most extraordinary choral achievements of the end of the last century: the Choral Concerto by Alfred Schnittke. The score will only have had more impact placed as it was at the end of a program (entitled “Choral Symphony”) cleverly arranged as Léo Warynski likes them.

Kaleidoscope of images

The motet Spem in alium for 40 voices by Thomas Tallis opens the evening: taking possession of the immense space of the basilica by the choir (arranged in a circle on the stage for this piece), all the more striking for the listener that Warynski immediately demonstrates all his mastery of a sound material that the ear has the sensation of palpating. In its full expansion, as in its most infinitesimal expression: we measure it with the Tutto in una volta by Francesco Filidei (1973), a 2020 piece on a poem by Nanni Balestrini (where the writer plays on fragmentation, the word , the syllable: a way of returning, in Italy in the 60s, to what Marinetti and his futurist friends (1) offered before the First World War, claiming an approach no less anti-bourgeois) during which , according to Filidei, the music accompanies the text “by stringing together series of chords that cause the color to mutate slightly at each moment in a kaleidoscope of images. » A process that Warynski and his choristers translate and poetize with a confounding art of tiny nuance... of almost nothing...
Mahler transformed by Gérard Pesson

Change of climate with Gérard Pesson's transcription of the famous Adagietto from Mahler's 5th Symphony. For the head of the Metaboles, it is a question of kneading with both hands the material of a transcription in which Pesson draws on extracts (chosen by Martin Kaltenecker) from the Venetian Sonnets and the 1824 Diary of August von Platen. A true feat is the transition from the orchestra to the choral universe, accomplished with an extraordinary sense of timbre: the piece takes its place very high in the list of transcriptions from the orchestra to the choir. Iridescence of the female music stands, abysmal depth of bass, flexibility and density without heaviness of the choral mass... The illusion is all the more perfect as Warynski has, as we know, a pronounced taste for such arrangements and can count on the interventions of admirable soloists: Anne-Laure Hulin (sop.), Laura Muller (alto), Marco van Baaren (tenor). His success is also due to his deep attention to the meaning of words; those of Von Platen in this case, a German homosexual poet who took refuge in Venice at the beginning of the Romantic century; further those of the 10th century Armenian monk, mystic and composer Gregory of Narek – extracts from his Book of Lamentations.

Human clay and quest for the absolute

From this work (translated into Russian by Naum Grebnev), Alfred Schnittke, converted to Christianity in 1982, took four fragments and immersed himself between 1984 and 1985 in writing the Choral Concerto. 49 singers, a score for mixed ensemble in sixteen parts: a particularly experienced sound architect is absolutely required to confront such a monument. We have it – and in what order! – with Léo Warynski. The Concerto has no shortage of spectacular moments and the conductor, followed by singers with impeccable intonation accuracy throughout, knows how to highlight them. It remains that the emotional force of his approach comes first, we return, to his ability to always anchor his reading in the words. The poetic and spiritual richness of the writings of Gregory of Narek continually guides him. “I wrote for the righteous and the sinners [...], for the oppressed and the great princes” ... Nothing disembodied, but quite the contrary a mixture of human clay and the quest for the absolute to which Schnittke totally identifies through a composition inscribed in the great tradition of Russian Orthodox music – in line with Tchaikovsky’s Liturgy and Rachmaninoff’s Vespers. A truly overwhelming experience, to which three admirable soloists made a particular contribution: Maya Villanueva (sop.), Marco Van Baaren (tenor) and Guillaume Olry (bass). Exactly contemporary with the Choir Concerto, the second of Schnittke's three Sacred Hymns, offered as an encore, completely captivates the audience. An evening written in the annals of the Vézelay Musical Meetings. Let us hope that the Métaboles will one day, hopefully soon, offer us a recording of the Choral Concerto...

Great art, served by Métaboles in great shape

Resmusica - Patrick Jézéquel
Symphonie chorale

“Choral symphony” in Vézelay: Les Métaboles thinks big!

After the St. Matthew Passion, return to the Sainte-Madeleine basilica, as part of the Rencontres musicales de Vézelay, for a choral madness spanning four centuries of composition, with pieces by Thomas Tallis, Gustav Mahler transcribed by Gérard Pesson, Alfred Schnittke and Francesco Filidei.

Great art, served by Métaboles in great shape. Very finely thought out, the program is built on solid and sometimes secret links. This is what Léo Warynski and Guy Gosselin reveal, gathered around Emmanuelle Giulani at the traditional “hearing session” which precedes the concert. A bridge between eras, the latter highlights connections between works and musicians, played or not this evening: the plurality of choirs in the Spem in alium (date unknown) by Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-1585) and Tutto un una volta ( 2020) by Francesco Filidei (born 1973); the inspiration that the latter draws from György Ligeti’s Lux æterna; the “polystylism” of  Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) and Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998), composers borrowing from diverse sources; finally, the multiple affinities woven by Gérard Pesson (born in 1958) transcribing in Kein Deutscher Himmel (1996-1997) the Adagietto from Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 (1901-1902). Precisely, for Pesson, who, in an interview about the work of transcription, cites the name of Salvatore Sciarrino, incidentally one of Francesco Filidei's former composition teachers, "a composer was never born under X." . We should not forget the Slavic roots of a choir director who included Schnittke’s Choral Concerto (1984-1985) as his main course. Intended as such by Léo Warynski, this evening plays on the dual picture of invention and memory so that listeners experience a few shocks without having lost all bearings.

les Métaboles form a full circle on the stage before singing Tallis’ 40-voice Spem in alium. You have to imagine the singers placed in front with their backs to the audience. Men and women alternate in small groups of 2 or 3. So a particular spatialization for a piece which is no less so, written for 8 choirs and 5 voices on Latin lyrics whose origin is the Book of Judith. This contrapuntal composition expresses a supplication addressed to God, first uttered very humbly by two sopranos and gradually swelling, contaminating all registers. A long phrase which stretches, becomes richer, is cut up and redoubles into rhythmic cells, dies away before being taken up in a crescendo to burst into a tutti on important words such as Deus meus. The audience finds themselves enveloped in a long continuum that is constantly changing and rarely interrupted. The delicacy and fervor of such a piece are perfectly rendered by the singers.

From an anarchist father and a practicing Catholic mother, Francesco Filidei, himself a notable organist, therefore inherited this double tradition, which is felt in his musical production, as here with Tutto in una volta – “All at once” – inspired by a text by the avant-garde poet Nanni Balestrini (1935-2019), “Ma noi facciamone un'altra” (1966), which can be translated as: “But let's try one more time”. Modeling its composition on an unstructured poem that rejects lyricism and narration ("There is no more / Time for / But everything / In at the same time / Both what / We have / Already said to each other / Like that on / The paper / All at / At the same time…), Filidei plays on what remains, the syllables, by placing “series of chords which cause the color to mutate slightly at each moment in a kaleidoscope of images. » We begin by hearing "ah" murmured here and there throughout the choir facing us, to the very beautiful effect of bubbles bursting on the surface of a pond, then what very strongly resembles the beginning of Ligeti's Lux aeterna, also mixed a cappella choir written in canon and in an imperceptibly evolving micropolyphony. The wave slowly swells, the tension drops then begins a long decrescendo until the initial “ah” returns. It is difficult to forget Ligeti and appreciate this Tutto in una volta even though it was successful.

The same difficulty presents itself to the ear, faithful but naturally lazy, when listening to Gérard Pesson's Kein Deutscher Himmel, a transcription of the Adagietto from Mahler's Symphony No. 5: can it forget the model? But the hair stands on end and tingles run through the body at the first bars, when the supple voices of the violas resonate on the piano, taken up solo at the far right of the stage by the very timbre of Laura Muller. It's beautiful to cry. While respecting the original score, the composer sought to reproduce the very rich and subtle acoustic universe of the Venice lagoon, not only thanks to the complicity of Martin Kaltenecker, who added extracts from the Venetian Sonnets as well as the Journal of German romantic poet August von Platen (1796-1835), but also and above all by the fine variation of timbres and the use of the extreme high notes of a soprano (Anne-Laure Hulin, masterful) in order to circumvent the inevitable reduction of the ambitus of the choir in relation to that of the orchestra. It took the excellence of an ensemble like the Métaboles to interpret this metamorphosis.

Last, but not least: the four movements of the Choir Concerto, by Alfred Schnittke, lasting approximately 45 minutes. In the Russian Orthodox tradition, “concerto” is to be understood as “motet” or “cantata”. The text: The Book of Lamentations by the Armenian monk and poet Gregory of Narek (951-1003), in the Russian translation by Naum Grebnev. Be careful, excess presides here, from meditation to incantation and from confidence to mystical trance, with very powerful crescendos and tuttis, the very beautiful melismas of solo voices soaring above the mass ( the soprano Maya Villanueva, the tenor Marco Van Baaren), successive waves of increasing intensity or even the “black sorrow” of an instant prayer. Very collected themselves, all of the choristers perfectly convey the lyricism, the dramaturgy and the devotion which underlie this spiritual piece from start to finish. The space of the basilica will have offered throughout the evening (at least in the first rows) the space required by this choral music.

he generous Léo Warynski announces as an encore the second of the Three Sacred Hymns (1984) by the same Schnittke. Thanks, Maestro!

A packed church for a high-level choral evening

Resmusica - Patrick Jézéquel
Singing Ravel

Making Ravel heard a cappella: this is the very beautiful idea presented by Léo Warynski and the Métaboles as part of the Rencontres musicales de Vézelay, organized by the Cité de la Voix. A Ravel revisited by four transcriptionists: Clytus Gottwald, Thierry Machuel, Gérard Pesson and Thibault Perrine. When choral singing swells a universe full of grace and color ...

On the program, a dozen songs, some from opuses written directly for the voice, as well as Les Trois Chansons, Ravel’s only a cappella work; the others for instruments, even orchestra, like the Bolero, which will be the star of the evening. Gentle immersion with Pavane pour une infante defunte (1899-1910), transcribed for choir by Thibault Perrine, who will greet him at the end of the concert. He borrows the text from another pavane, very famous this one: Belle qui tient ma vie. The flexibility of the voices and the homogeneity of the whole are immediately appreciated, as well as the management of effects, such as this suspension on the verge of silence before the theme is reexposed. The same Perrine will end the evening with the sparkling Bolero (1928). This success, which has become global, to the great surprise of its composer, has this evening the same spontaneous support from the public, who not only have the original in their ears, but appreciate the great qualities of the arrangement for vocal ensemble. . And it is indeed a joy to see as much as to hear the slow crescendo of a repetitive melody supported by an intangible rhythm. The themes, sung by one or two male voices, circulate from desk to desk then swell, being taken up by an increasing number of choristers. Congratulations also to the men responsible for whistling between their teeth the ostinato, originally struck on a snare drum. A pounding on the platform is heard timidly before its general spread. At the end of the day, this bass drum effect doubles as the men beat their chests while the women hit their thighs. The picturesque and joyfulness of the work is conveyed with a certain humor by the whistles that accompany the two themes and the "wow, wow" of the tenors who comment on them. The acclaimed Bolero will even be given in part during the second encore.

The difficulty or the embarrassment, listening to an arranged music, is the memory of the reference in its original workforce, and we can regret that many transcriptions, however successful they may be, give the impression to stick to their model. This is certainly not the case with tLa Pavane de la Belle au Bois dormant (1908-1912), adapted by Thierry Machuel, which clearly plays the four desks, thus conveying the diaphanous elegance of the Ravelian universe. A quiet whistle further reinforces the impression of distance or false lightness emanating from such music as from a flower garden. Also noteworthy is the transcription of Soupir (1913) by Clytus Gottwald, whose quivering high-pitched superimposed voices irresistibly evoke Ligeti's Lux aeterna. This piece was commissioned by Gottwald, who premiered it in 1966, the year it was composed, with his ensemble, the Schola Cantorum in Stuttgart. Certain pieces stand out for their joyful and hopping side, such as Nicolette, the first LesTrois Chansons (1914-1915). Others by the flight of solo voices, such as La Flûte enchantée (1903), extracted from Scheherazade and arranged by Gérard Pesson (born in 1958), where the soprano Amandine Trenc (sublime!) Stands out in volutes on a carpet of low notes.

This 21st edition of the festival, which forges a secret link between two Apaches, Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) and the conductor Désiré-Émile Inghelbrecht (1880-1965), is a pleasant wink. In fact, from 1900 until the First World War, the Parisian circle of friends, self-baptized the Société des Apaches, met, in which all of Ravel's works were created. As for Inghelbrecht, he spent his summers very often, from 1923 until his death, in his house on rue Saint-Étienne, located some 150m from the Basilica of Sainte-Marie-Madeleine, as one plaque recalls. A church is packed today for a high-end choral evening.