Monday, 29 January 2024

CHF 50 | 30.-

19:30 Eglise de Rougemont

A. Bruckner
Ave Maria

F. Poulenc
O Magnum Mysterium, Quem vidistis pastores, Salve Regina Tenebrae factae sunt

T. L. de Victoria
Caligaverunt oculi mei, Animam meam dilectam, Ecce quomodo moritur

V. Nees
De profundis

T. Tallis
If ye love me

J. Rheinberger

A. Bruckner
Os justi,Virga Jesse

E. Elgar
Lux aeterna

E. Whitacre
Lux Nova

Under the patronage of

Concert presentation

Bruckner: Ave Maria
The voice is perhaps the ‘instrument’ most capable of conveying light – and not only divine light; dimmed light, too. Not forgetting powdered light. Right up to the divine radiance of faith. Of Bruckner’s three Ave Maria settings, the one performed here, dating from 1861, is the most well known. It was written to celebrate the genesis of a choir he was conducting. With all its aspects of immense serenity, and in spite of the flat spans of the scores themselves, this work is a reminder that music is both a sound – a movement – and a space as well. It is best heard in three dimensions.

Poulenc: O Magnum Mysterium, Quem vidistis pastores, Salve Regina, Tenebrae factae sunt
Poulenc and faith: a complex relationship. Angry with God at the death of his father in 1917, religion saved him from grief after the fatal accident of his friend, the composer Pierre-Octave Ferroud in 1936. But this revived belief would be an austere one, in the image of the Black Virgin who helped bring it back to life. This is especially true where his sacred writing was concerned – without theory or embellishments. Here is an all-permeating music, that touches the soul before the ears. Taken from his Four Motets for Christmas, the first piece turns out to be the most radical. Bringing ecclesiastical Latin closer to the Hebrew of a synagogue, Poulenc’s tonal harmonies seem to hurtle towards an abyss that modulates between darkness and daylight. Quem vidistis pastores offers an exchange that, in archaic tones, shuttles back and forth between sun and heaven, now reconciled. Salve Regina continues to weave this web of softened calm, seeking beauty in the frugal; but it concludes with 19 bars repeating ‘Dulcis Virgo Maria’, in the shape of a lament for the composer’s late friend. We round the selection off with one of the Quatre Motets pour un temps de Pénitence (Four Penitential Motets): in this imitation canon, the opacity of the piece descends on humanity as a whole. But let us not despair of earthly life: Poulenc dedicated this final motet to a woman celestial yet all too real – Nadia Boulanger.

T.L. de Victoria: Caligaverunt oculi mei, Animam meam dilectam, Ecce quomodo moritur
Motets, hymns, Magnificat, psalms: the priest and organist Tomás Luis de Victoria never wrote a secular line in his life, dedicating himself to bringing colour to every date in the liturgical calendar through his genius for polyphony. This persistence made him the most renowned sacred composer of the Iberian Renaissance, and the ultimate emblem, at his death in 1611, of the sigle d’oro (Golden Century), the period that brought an upsurge in creativity to Spain, with God taking a central place. Like Velázquez and El Greco, Tomás Luis de Victoria blended the purest tradition with highly experimental personal gestures. Preferring the appeal of emotion to cold counterpoint, the composer made play of dissonances in order to commune with the notion of pleasure that was such a source of fear for the clerical world.

Nees: De profundis
The son of an organist, the Belgian Vic Nees, who died in 2013, was largely self-taught as a musician, influenced by Bartók, Stravinsky and Britten. In this timeless vocal work, a sepulchral sinusoid takes centre stage on beaches without limit, stretching towards the same ineffable horizon. We might think of Baudelaire’s poem of the same name: ‘I beg pity of you, the only one I love,/from the depths of the dark pit where my heart has fallen/It’s a gloomy world with a leaden horizon/where through the night horror and blasphemy swim.’

Tallis: If ye love me
This famous setting, taken from the Anglican church repertoire, was published in 1565. The listener is invited by God, ‘if he love him’, to respect his wishes. Despite this commandment, the prayer has a honeyed tone. Homophony, and the prime imperative of purity so characteristic of the norms of composition of the English Reformation, are there for a reason.

Rheinberger: Abendlied
Written by a composer aged just 15 in 1855, a few weeks before Easter, this motet expresses none of the characteristics traditionally associated with adolescence. Confident and uncompromising, it divides and combines several parts in a journey of evident truth that sends the listener into a trance-like state. A sense of weightlessness predominates. We are no longer sure that we have both feet on the ground.

Bruckner: Os justi, Virga Jesse
Gregorian chant is modal, diatonic – and, above all, anonymous. Adapting these two motets around the 1880s, through a delightful play on unisons, Bruckner pays tribute to ten centuries of sacred music, and in particular to the monastery of St Florian, which welcomed him in when he lost his father at the age of 13. In this haven, the little boy learned that modesty could be sublime.

Elgar: Lux aeterna
‘Death? But I’m used to it! I died long before I was born.’ This witticism of Jean Cocteau seems tailor-made for the present motet, which emerges from darkness and ascends towards grace. Elgar’s father was a piano tuner: this work can be heard as the perpetual search for concord between being and nothingness. Or else between the distinct voices of a chorus that reverberates with opposing forces, forces that are still fused into one body.

Whitacre: Lux Nova
A contemporary composition to conclude this ethereal stroll through the spheres. The ambient music of Brian Eno or Harold Budd is very much present here. Without using electronics, Whitacre floats through layers of fog, sewing together a strange mantle of light, where spots of lustre are diffracted further through space than ever. Sacred song is a quantum continent, outside time and beyond reality.

Same day