Marie Ythier: Une Rencontre (An Encounter)

review marie ythier x1 cong

The warm tones of the cello are what make this CD a pleasure to listen to, which is good, because the sleeve notes are technical and the ideas behind it analytical.

Composer Tristan Murail is, say the release notes, “without doubt” one of the most significant figures in European contemporary music circles, and one of the prime instigators of spectral music. He wants to “develop new soundworlds arising out of the old and to concentrate not on the serialism fashionable when he was young,” the notes go on. (Wikipedia explains serialism, so we won’t. Ditto spectral music, since you asked).

This album reflects his encounters with Schumann; initially not too impressed, Murail writes, though he overcame his “initial indifference” to become “seduced” by the composer. Murail later heard Ythier play one of his pieces and she mooted the idea of a Schumann-Murail programme.

The aim is to compare modern and classical music, specifically the predictable and unpredictable: Murail seems to prefer the latter, and there’s the wider issue of “great” composers writing to a reasonably predictable format and modern composers trying to be inventive. Of course, the melding of old and new has the serendipitous by-product of combining the much-loved and familiar with the more modern, appealing to a wider audience.

The CD opens with Schumann’s Fünf Stücke im Volkston (“Five pieces in folk tone”), which is a delight. The references to folk give Schumann the opportunity for “varied and fluctuating rhythms” says Murail.

His own Attracteurs Étranges follows. An attractor is a set of numerical values toward which a system tends to evolve, and one is strange if it has a fractal structure, which leads towards chaos theory and the butterfly effect. It starts off a little modern and cold but soon warms up. Une lettre de Vincent is another modern piece for cello and flute, inspired by the letters of Van Gogh to his brother.

Schumann’s Fantasiestücke follows, a nice romantic piece that brings some calm for anyone struggling with the more modern sounds.

After another original Murail work, the CD ends with what is presumably the point of the exercise: Murail’s re-interpretation of Schumann’s Scènes d’Enfants (Kinderszenen). “I tried to provide ‘colouring’ for Schumann’s pieces, just as old black and white films are now sometimes ‘colourised’ … while remaining as faithful as possible to the … the score,” Murail writes.

As we occasionally tell irate composers / performers who complain, we’re not trying to write clever reviews, just tell you whether the music is enjoyable and worth a tenner of your hard-earned wages. In this case, yes. The Schumann is Schumann, the “coloured” piece mostly so, and charming, and the modern music is not inaccessible.

Marie Vermeulin plays piano, Samuel Bricault the flute.

Out on Divine Art’s Metier Label, MSV28590.


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