Sunday, 8 November 2015

"Hats off, gentlemen...."

I have now listened to this utterly remarkable piece many times:

The french composer Karol Beffa is a kind of all-round genius, a professional in different fields, and as a composer - judging from this short 'piano concerto' - a veritable master, in the line Debussy-Ravel-Dutilleux, like his collegue Nicolas Bacri, another explorer of pre-war traditions. Both composers are creating new, fascinating music, with roots in the last period when the influence of the past was something to freely accept and to rework into one's own voice. It is not clear, however, whether this is a consistent line of development in Beffa's work; he often writes in different ways in different pieces.

In this piece, the material is worked-up chromatically, with two different types of themes, towards a climax which dissolves into a very quiet 'chorale' where the major and the minor triad blend into a softly-rubbing sound (the major positioned on top of the minor, which is unusual and reminescent of the same device in Stravinsky's short, early, mystic cantata 'Le Roi des Etoiles').

The scoring is superb: colourful and edgy, in this recording brilliantly realized by the Orchestre de Paris under Paavo Järvi, breathlessly running after pianist Andréas Haefliger.

You can hear elements from the twenties, from Stravinsky, from jazz, from the type of minimalism à la John Adams, but all synthesized into a personal voice and imbued with a tragic expression. Maybe we can say: this is, for many people, how it feels to live in these times.... and what happens when taken distance of it. The title is from one of Baudelaire's famous poems, a nostalgic meditation on a lost paradise with references to colonial bliss. It seems to me that this is the underlying meaning of the piece, a touching nostalgia to something we have 'lost': the capacity to 'speak' through music about the inner life experience of man. What has the composer himself to say about the work?

"J'ai une passion pour l'œuvre de Baudelaire, dont l'écriture est aussi raffinée qu'accessible au plus grand nombre. La Vie Antérieure fait écho non seulement au célèbre poème mais aussi à la notion de la réminiscence qui irrigue la partition. C'est-à-dire que les idées de cette pièce, en un seul mouvement - bien qu'elle s'organise en trois parties - se nourrissent elles-mêmes. L'œuvre, qui ne dure que quinze minutes, est composée pour un orchestre par deux, sans trombone et avec une harpe. Deux thèmes se heurtent, s'imbriquent, se déchirent en une série de motifs. Ils se métamorphosent dans le finale dont la carrure est assez verticale, hiératique comme une sorte de choral aux sonorités de cloches. Pas de référence à l'époque baroque ! Simplement, je ne voulais pas terminer par un finale flamboyant, mais dans une sorte de sentiment d'éternité paisible."

In my opinion, this is a masterpiece. How often can we say that about new music?

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