|About this Recording
8.572489 - BLOCH, T.: Missa Cantate / Sancta Maria / Cold Song / Christ Hall Blues (Waschinski, T. Bloch, Coulter, Paderewski Philharmonic, Quattrocchi)
Thomas Bloch (b. 1962)
Thomas Bloch, born in Colmar, France, in 1962, was seven years old when he wrote his first pieces of music, and when he began to take an interest in contemporary composers such as Penderecki, Xenakis, Boulez, Maxwell Davies and Messiaen. He also discovered the ondes Martenot at this point, one of the main instruments in which he was later to specialise as a concert performer. At twelve he became fascinated by the music of John Cage, with whom he would later collaborate, Ravel, Prokofiev, Rachmaninov, Debussy (the Études), Schumann (the chamber works), Fauré, Satie and Bartók. By seventeen he had developed an interest in both classical and rock music and was continuing to explore a variety of contemporary soundworlds (Otte, La Monte Young, Riley, Glass and Kagel). He then studied at the University of Strasbourg and the Conservatories of Colmar, Strasbourg and Paris (ondes Martenot, piano, chamber music, acoustics, harmony, counterpoint, fugue, and so on). He also attended summer courses in Darmstadt, where he had the opportunity to work with figures such as Hespos, Feldman, Ferneyhough, Radulescu and Tom Johnson, another composer with whom he later collaborated.
At the end of his studies at the Paris Conservatoire, Bloch launched his performing career, as a specialist in rare instruments (the ondes Martenot, glass harmonica and cristal Baschet). He is now a much sought-after musician in many different fields: classical music, opera, contemporary and improvisatory music, song, jazz, rock, theatre, cinema and ballet, among others. While most of his life is spent in concert halls and recording studios, he also devotes as much time as possible to composing, and has written music for a variety of different instrumental forces and to accompany stage, dance and cinematic performances.
Bloch’s compositional direction developed as he gained experience as a performer of both art and popular music, and as he came into contact on a regular basis with a wide range of audiences. Little by little, he began favouring auditory pleasure over the purely theoretical and conceptual in his music, accepting the fact of having succumbed to the temptations offered by our diverse musical heritage.
His choice of a male soprano for his vocal works was inspired by a simple idea, namely combining the rare “angelic voice” formerly associated with castrati with the equally rare glass harmonica, dubbed the “angelic organ” by Paganini. His meeting with singer Patrick Husson in 1989 set the seal on the matter.
The Missa Cantate for male soprano and symphony orchestra resembles its composer in nature: calm, serene and informed by Bloch’s many collaborations as a performer (he moves quite happily from Mozart to John Cage and on again to Radiohead). Its aim is to strike an emotional chord with as many listeners as possible. There is an immediacy to Bloch’s eloquent musical vocabulary, while his idiom remains eminently personal.
The Mass was written between April and November 1999 and completed during a residency at the Château de La Napoule, an artistic oasis on the shores of the Mediterranean near Cannes, whose magical atmosphere is clearly reflected in this work. Having originally written the piece for male soprano and piano, Bloch called on Hubert Bougis, a much sought-after orchestrator in the film world, to create the orchestral version. The Missa Cantate is dedicated to Christine Bloch, to the memories of musicologist Marc Honegger and Hubert Bougis, and to Annick Fiaschi Dubois, the musicologist who was awarded a “Prix de Rome” and who suggested to Bloch that he write the work.
The Introit immediately induces a meditative state that invites one to listen to the work in its entirety. A certain familiarity with Górecki’s Symphony No. 3 is discernible, but the movement also calls on the structure of Baroque opera, a repertoire beloved of male sopranos, by alternating recitative and aria to frame a brief peak of sound. The Kyrie, linked directly to the Gloria, is less stable harmonically, a mixture of contained tumult and calm which ends on an unexpected chord. The stability of the Alleluia contrasts sharply with the previous movement. The vocal line here begins on a single note, the A above middle C, before gradually rising into the high notes in a falsely repetitive melody. A six-bar passage repeated in a loop, its orchestration being different in each of the nine repeats, is used to lead to a joyful development which is brought to an end by a short and more restrained recapitulation. After an introduction, an excerpt from which will later act as a bridge, the Credo presents three successive episodes which are played several times before the appearance of an entirely new coda. The movement’s dense text is divided between recitative and lyrical sections. Then, in the Offertory, a clear melodic line unfolds above a sober orchestral accompaniment. This apparent simplicity disguises the underlying serial harmonies, a procedure enabling the composer to stamp a certain dynamism on the music, an impression of inexorable progression despite the rhythmic stasis. In the Sanctus, which leads into the Benedictus without a break, we hear a nod to a style of film music one might qualify as post-Romantic or even a cliché. This is borne out by its orchestration, two-part rhythm, memorable melody and verse/refrain form, and underlines Thomas Bloch’s interest in writing music to accompany visual images. The Anamnesis is a kind of flowing interlude, recalling the Ouysse, a magnificent and serene river that carves out a deep, green furrow through a limestone plateau not far from Rocamadour, France, a place that was particularly meaningful for Francis Poulenc. Here again we hear those serial harmonies, except in the movement’s central section. The almost rigid stasis of the Pater Noster, by contrast, is softened only occasionally by a few harmonic changes. The unchanging, repetitive accompaniment, like a solemn procession, leaves the voice free to follow its own path and to explore its full register. The Agnus Dei externalises and dismisses some of the tension caused by the previous movement’s inward-looking character and seems all the more supple for its extensive deployment of chromatic movements. It acts as another interlude, this time preparing listeners for the closing Ite Missa Est. Now the sometimes familiar and reassuring and sometimes harrowing ticking of a clock and of time passing are evoked. The syllables become more widely spaced. Reaching the lower register, the voice goes back to the earth and falls silent. As a symbolic reminder, seven final bars conclude the work.
Sancta Maria (1998) for four male soprano voices, viola, glass harmonica, cristal Baschet, keyboards and crystal bells, has been the recipient of a number of awards and has been used in several documentary and film soundtracks. Its première was given by male soprano Fabrice di Falco and Thomas Bloch himself. The work requires various vocal techniques as the singer also has to access a lower, almost baritone register, and to create a range of effects. Again following the Baroque tradition, the work opens with a recitative; this is followed by an aria in which multiple lines and effects are used to weave a fabric of sounds that ends with a seemingly weightless vocal canon.
Cold Song (2009) for seven male soprano voices, cristal Baschet and waterphone, attempts to trigger an almost physical response, a sense of iciness. The voice is treated as an instrument and its timbre is sometimes very slightly modified electronically in order to add more colours to the sound fabric and to the effects (harmonic, percussive, and so on) created by the cristal Baschet and occasionally enhanced by the waterphone.
The Baroque opera structure used in the Sancta Maria is employed once more in Christ Hall Blues (1990, revised 2005), for male soprano, glass harmonica, cristal Baschet, ondes Martenot, musical saw and crystal bells. Its two parts, Recitative and Aria, come from a work of around 25 minutes, Christ Hall (Hommage à Marc Chagall), which was commissioned by Alain Pacquier and the Sarrebourg Festival in 1990. Originally it was composed for a single voice (instead of the twelve in the current version)—that of Patrick Husson—accompanied by six glass harmonicas (only two remain, playing the original lines and more besides), a single ondes Martenot (there are two here) and synthesizers, whose parts are here entrusted to the cristal Baschet. At the première the work was performed in front of the largest stained-glass window Chagall ever created, in the Chapelle des Cordeliers in Sarrebourg, France. The first part of the work is melodic, accompanied for the most part by the cristal Baschet and prolonged by a short instrumental transition. In the second part, introduced by the musical saw and a sound of bells that continues to the end of the piece, the melodic line and a succession of simple harmonies are set out in an eight-bar section repeated in a loop, as in a song without a chorus. The calm and regular tempo echoes the natural movement of breathing. There are three layers of meaning in the title: in French, the pronunciation of Christ Hall is the same as that of “cristal” (“glass” or “crystal”), the English words reflect the location of the première, while in German, “Hall” means “reverberation”.
Christ Hall Postlude (2008) picks up the elements of the interlude that separates the recitative and the aria in Christ Hall Blues. This short piece draws largely on silence, enabling listeners to emerge gradually from the listening experience provided by this album.
J.J.S. von Holt Sombach
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