- Pierrot Lunaire, opera
Roger Marsh: Albert Giraud's Pierrot Lunaireby Red Byrd
It might seem foolhardy to set about to compose a piece based on the same text as that of one of the seminal works in twentieth century music, but British composer Roger Marsh has taken the risk and succeeded in creating something entirely new and hugely engaging. His choral cycle, "Albert Giraud's Pierrot Lunaire," uses the same texts as Schoenberg's "Pierrot Lunaire," but beyond that, there is little basis for comparing the works, setting up Marsh's effort as a challenge to Schoenberg's masterpiece. Schoenberg used a German translation of 21 of Giraud's poems, and his musical language gives them a decidedly Expressionist flavor. His work focuses on the vocal soloist, who delivers the texts in Sprechstimme, accompanied by an instrumental ensemble whose make-up varies from song to song. Marsh's setting of the 50 poems of Giraud's collection in French emphasizes their Symbolist origins. The diverse forces for which he writes give him wide-ranging expressive possibilities, and his ingenious deployment of his performers keeps the 105-minute work fresh and intriguing. The piece is almost entirely a cappella, although there are a few songs with instruments added. The piece is written for four specific vocal ensembles, each of which has a distinct character, as well as a mezzo-soprano soloist and a speaker. The Hilliard Ensemble is a widely acclaimed male quartet that specializes in early music and new music. The members of the mixed vocal trio Red Byrd "believe that the point of singing the music of the past is to illuminate the present." Juice, another mixed vocal trio, specializes in extended vocal techniques, as well as jazz, folk, and pop. The Ebor Singers, a more conventional mixed choir, is based at the University of York. The majority of the songs are performed in French by one of the ensembles, or by a combination of groups, or by soloists, with the speaker's recitation of the poem in English woven into the musical fabric, but that pattern is varied frequently enough to avoid any sense of predictability or monotony: some poems are performed without English translation, some are recited in French, some are sung in French and recited in English by a single performer, some are sung in French by one ensemble and in English by another, and some are only recited in English with instrumental accompaniment. Marsh skillfully exploits the strengths of the various groups. For the Ebor Singers, his writing is lushly lyrical and often intensely chromatic. The Hilliard Ensemble and Red Byrd are generally given more austere and sometimes spiky lines, and Juice produces a remarkable array of vocalizations. Marsh's writing is endlessly inventive and evocative, and is frequently inspired; the individual songs are moving, astonishing, or amusing, and the effect of the whole is dramatic, deeply expressive, and lyrically gratifying. The only regret the piece inspires is the limited performance opportunities it will have, given the extravagant performing forces it requires, and one can only imagine the effect it would have had in its original semi-staged production. The performances of all of the ensembles are stellar -- vocally pure, deeply committed, and fearlessly theatrical. The sound is generally good, but the volume level sometimes varies distractingly between tracks. Marsh's eccentric work should be of great interest to anyone who loves adventurous new choral music rooted in traditions of the past.
- Release Date:
- Nmc Records
Performance CreditsRed Byrd Primary Artist