Marie Ythier

Vincent van Gogh wrote to his brother in 1880 about his feeling of confinement: “… and men are frequently not able to do much, caged up as they are and unable to say what it’s like to be imprisoned…walled… buried… behind bars…gates…walls…”

In the Song of Songs 4:12 the wise and randy King Solomon wrote – “You are a garden locked up, my sister, my bride; you are a spring enclosed, a sealed fountain.”

Both these texts from opposite ends of the emotional human compass are given musical life in the various compositions by Tristan Murail featured in Une rencontre (msv 28590) a fascinating release by métier where one reencounters the familiar and the new, and the two intertwined as in a felicitous marriage.

Schumann’s 1849 Four Pieces in a Folk Vein, opus 102 and, from the same year, three of his Fantastical Pieces, opus 73 are juxtaposed to 20th century works in an album that climaxes in Schumann’s Childhood Scenes, opus 15 from 1838 in a surprisingly effective setting for cello, piano and flute arranged by Tristan Murail, the prolific French composer who authored fifteen of the album’ tracks.

The title Attracteurs étranges alludes to a mathematical term beyond the limited scope of a review. The music comes from 1992, having premiered in a concert that year honoring Iannis Xenakis’ 70th birthday. Redolent of the Greek composer’s cutting edge sound, and hewing close in its dissonant asperities and its intellectually severe aesthetic to music created within the French Centre for Mathematical and Automatic Musical Studies, Murail’s composition is immensely challenging.

Elsewhere in A Letter from Vincent and in the intriguingly titled You are a secret garden, my sister, my betrothed, you are a not yet flowing spring, a sealed fountain… the composer is heard in a gentler mode, inspired in one case by a friend’s wedding, and in another by a childhood memory of a gift of a book with reproductions of Van Gogh paintings and some of the letters the Dutch master wrote to his brother Theo during his time in France. In both these compositions Murail’s writing gives the impression of being closer to the heart than to the brain, gentler, shunning as the composer himself expresses in his liner notes, “the avatars of serialism.”

Schumann’s Fantastical Pieces and his Four Pieces in a Folk Vein both were written in 1849 at the end of a period of feverish creativity by Schumann though not long before the onset of the recurring symptoms of “neurasthenia” that would eventually lead to his untimely death at the age of 46. The composer’s life-long inner struggle with the primal impulses of his two alter egos, Sebastian and Florestan is barely hinted at in the folksy tunefulness of his Op. 102, though vestiges of it are perceived in Fantastical Pieces, the earlier opus from the same year.

The protean playing of French cellist Marie Ythier evidences utter comfort with the technical challenges of Murail’s Serialism. The young cellist has an uncanny way of switching musical gears in order to inhabit the Ur-Romantic world of Robert Schumann and the contemporary sounds of Murail. Her technique is flawless, her interpretive gifts non-pareil, and her partners, pianist Marie Vermeulin and flautist Samuel Bricault are faultless associates in the ensemble’s chameleonic transitions from Schumann to Murail and on to Murail’s re-conceived Schumann-Murail conflation of Kinderszenen.

Rafael de Acha