Inland, from recital to playlist
Listening review

Reviews 23.03.2021

Did you know that? I didn't, until I wrote this column.

It was Franz Liszt, composer and pianist (1811-1886), then on the threshold of his solo fame, who in 1840 coined the term "recital" - originally in the plural. With this neologism with deliberately rhetorical and poetic connotations, which he conceived with the English musician Frederick Beale and which he preferred to the expressions "musical soliloquy" or "piano monologue," Liszt was to revolutionize the form of the concert, to the point of becoming one of the first modern showmen (1). In the following century, the advent of recorded music consecrated the discographic form of the recital. This form-which is nothing more than a program proposed by a soloist or accompanied by a pianist in the case of an opera artist-became an obligatory passage for all performers, a calling card aimed at demonstrating their virtuosity as much as their musical personality, generally through milestones of the repertoire. In recent years, however, we have seen an increase in the number of new types of programmes, favouring escapes into the margins of the repertoire, playing with the eras or giving pride of place to the "lesser masters" and other little-known pieces. In writing this, I am thinking in particular of four (very fine) discs - here we will stick to the pianists:

The Transcendentalist (2014) by Ivan Ilić:

Vanessa Wagner's aptly named Inland (2019):

Good Night by Bertrand Chamayou :

Labyrinth by David Greilsammer

both published in 2020.

Of course, there has never been a lack of pioneering performers over the past century, any more than there have been thematic programmes. But it seems to me that these performers are increasingly tending today to reveal themselves as music lovers through these discs. A phenomenon that one might be tempted to compare with two others. On the one hand, there is what we might call the "bankruptcy of the repertoire". With the multiplication of references, on vinyl and then on CD, what's the point of recording yet another reading of Chopin's Preludes or Paganini's Caprices, to measure up with more and more generations of giants? Let's think, for example, of Gabriel Dupont (1878-1914), a composer who beat Maurice Ravel to the Prix de Rome before signing several marvellous collections for piano, from La Maisons dans les dunes to Heures dolentes: still confidential 15 years ago, his works are now the subject of numerous discographic references...

This (admittedly relative) disaffection has gone hand in hand with the rise of streaming. It could be said - without in any way undermining the greatness of the above-mentioned discographic references - that there is a thin line between the recital and the "compilation". That these heterogeneous collections - though often thematically homogeneous - are another way of existing at a time when music is now listened to in pieces - most often disassociated, by the force of algorithms, from the work (in this case: the album) from which they come.

Insidiously, have we slipped from the recital to the playlist?

This does not mean that such records are disembodied. On the contrary. Just as the playlist seems to me to be the most democratic way of proposing and sharing a musical "vision", they seem to constitute a new way of reaffirming the primacy of the performer. First of all, as a "curator": these recital-albums impose themselves as real sound architectures, built by a musician who is not only a virtuoso, but also a dramaturge. The true alpha and omega of Web 2.0, "curation": the fact of making a selection from the infinite content available, is it not today an authentic way, while revealing little-known works, to assert one's personality as a music lover?

"I was fifteen years old, I think. It was a serene spring night, quiet, a few night birds singing in the distance. The strange barking of a dog, perhaps lost, sounded like a striking call, a mysterious premonition. I wanted to express this dream by looking for musical pieces. Each one expresses an emotion, a question, a doubt, a fear or a desire; all these moments that marked this very long journey leading to this program, this labyrinth." These words from David Greilsammer at the microphone of Radio Classique say a lot about the intimacy that is at stake through such projects. Now freed from the pressure to perform iconic works of the repertoire (even if they excel in doing so), these 2.0 musicians do full justice to the notion of "interpreter-creator", as they contribute, by rearranging it, to making the music they serve heard in a different way, through the grace of a sensibility that plays with eras and borders - areas and eras.

To go beyond the field of solo pianists alone, I am thinking as I write this of the approach taken by an ensemble such as La Tempête, notably on its 2017 disc Azahar: interweaving pieces of medieval music with modern scores by Maurice Ohana (1913-1992) and Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971), this disc truly revealed to me the latter's marvellous Requiem; perhaps precisely because they were 'salted' between works by Guillaume de Machaut (1300-1377), its successive movements seemed to me to resonate with all the more force, following a broader perspective, more salient reliefs...

And to go beyond the "discographic" field, I will conclude by recalling the concert of theensemble ]h[iatus en trio which I attended at the Sonorités festival in Montpellier in 2007. Works of contemporary music - James Tenney, Helmuth Lachenmann, Salvatore Sciarrino... - were performed, but no longer in the classical form of the "recital", i.e. interspersed with the ritual applause that often only serves to break the spell. On the contrary, they were linked by improvisations that allowed one to pass from one to the other, thanks to performers who had literally become passers-by. Thus, in the field of Western music of the written tradition, there are today certain records which, like certain concerts, have attained the rank of autonomous works.

David Sanson

1. On this subject, you should read Hugues Schmitt's fascinating article, 'Recital et recitatio - Réflexions autour de la performance musicale chez Liszt', published in issue 251 of the journal Etudes germaniques, Klincksieck, 2008, and available on the website

Photo © Franz Sedlacek 'Song in the txwilight' 1931


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