Great art, served by Métaboles in great shape

Monday 28 August 2023
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!