“Aeris Chordas” is the name for the concert I saw tonight, chamber music from four artists:
- Christina Raphaëlle Haldane, soprano
- Carl Philippe Gionet, piano
- Michelle Jacot, clarinet
- Marc Labranche, cello
The four composers I saw on the program:
- Johannes Brahms
- Gionet: (the same person playing the piano)
- André Previn
- Franz Schubert
Aha, Schubert + a clarinet? First things first. Scanning the program, I looked for “Der Hirt auf dem Felsen” (aka “the Shepherd on the rock”) and voila! there it was to close the program. It’s a challenging work, not programmed often enough, a lovely composition. And so there we were at Jeanne Lamon Hall at Trinity St Paul’s Centre, hearing these “Chords of the Air,” (my feeble attempt to translate the title, not knowing what language we’re working from).
In a program of unfamiliar music composed in the last quarter century (Previn in 1994 and Gionet’s work from the past year), book-ended by the more familiar composers (Brahms & Schubert), I would never have predicted the high points of the concert. Let me begin by saying that Carl Philippe Gionet was especially impressive, a bit of a musical chameleon. It’s funny that with the concluding piece, Schubert’s “The Shepherd on the Rock” that Gionet was totally self-effacing while allowed clarinetist Jacot and soprano Haldane to soar. Yet over the evening he really was their collaborative rock, the one who held it all together. The Brahms is easy to under-estimate, a work that demands ensemble fluidity as though the players are one mind and one body rather than a trio. It was in his three songs that I was especially impressed.
To hear the introduction from Haldane & Gionet, one would understand these as his adaptations, although I am hesitant because of course some artists have used this sort of framework to disguise original compositions –for instance Pierre Louÿs’ “Chansons de Bilitis” that were originally presented as historic specimens, and only later seen to be the poet’s own writing. According to their explanation, the “Trois folklores acadiens” are the beginning of a larger compilation, reminiscent perhaps of the anthropological record of folk music that Bartók assembled, rather than original compositions. Do I care whether these are adaptations or 100% original? Nope. Either way Gionet has made something very special. The three songs were introduced to us in Haldane’s wonderful incarnation of each, along with Gionet’s remarkable pianism, supposedly older a cappella songs adapted by Gionet.
- If I understood “Wing tra la” there’s flirtation here, Haldane giving us some remarkable sounds from her rich lower register (from a singer who is a lot more than just a soprano) while impersonating more than one character
- “Tout passe” in stark contrast is a smaller part of a longer hymn sung by the Acadians as they awaited deportation, a kind of stoic song of acceptance of their sad fate, while the piano swirls and comments, without really anchoring us solidly in a single tonality. We are floating in space for much of the song.
- “L’escaouette” is a wildly playful conclusion to this cycle, the pianist playfully hitting clusters, sounding at least bitonal in his support of an energetic song. Gionet has a gift at the piano, making something happen in his writing that never gets in the way of the voice, sometimes ambiguous in its tonality, and always interesting to hear. His is a flamboyant compositional voice that deserves to be heard. I look forward to the future additions to this cycle.
After the interval we encountered three strong solo voices together, namely cellist Labranche, soprano Haldane, and Gionet at the piano, in “Four songs after poems by Toni Morrison”, by André Previn. The cycle ends in an understated song called “The Lacemaker”, after some remarkable flamboyance from the piano, particularly in the jazzy “Stones”. Gionet & Haldane seem to be very happy on jazzy turf, her voice having several possible approaches to such repertoire.
My admiration for the final song really centres on Haldane, Jacot playing accurately, Gionet playing softly while Haldane astonished me, as though in a duet between the two soloists.
Coming at the end of a busy evening and lots of notes, I couldn’t help noticing how intelligently she began this Olympian song of huge leaps that suggest the high mountains, ascending 9ths and descending 10ths, all with pristine intonation. She began very carefully, gradually opening up as the song went on.
Will we hear more from this group, perhaps an album of this rep?
I hope so.