Disc Man

THE HILLIARD ENSEMBLE/ CHRISTOPH POPPEN

J.S. Bach's Moriumur

(ECM)

In 1994, Professor Helga Thoene published an article theorizing that a veritable theology in numbers and notes was hidden in the sacred music of Johann Sebastian Bach. The famous Chaconne from Bach's Partita in D minor for solo Violin, she claimed, was an "epitaph in music" for Maria Barbara Bach.

After violinist Christoph Poppen read Thoene's article, he proposed a collaboration with the famed Hilliard Ensemble to make the "hidden chorales" of the Chaconne audible. The result is the present recording, which uses various chorales and vocal excerpts, sung one voice to a part, to link together the five movements of the Partita. The recording climaxes with a unique version of the Chaconne in which the augmented Hilliard Ensemble sings verses in parallel with Poppen's solo violin.

The results, enhanced by ECM's highly atmospheric, mystical sonics, are so beautiful that one "gets" Bach's extra levels of meaning even without reading the liner notes. This is a wonderful album. Jason Serinus

KREMER, UPSHAW, KARTTUNEN

Kaija Saariaho's Chⴥau de L'⭥/Graal Th袴re/Amers (Sony)

Kaija Saariaho's Private

Gardens/Prisma

(Naﶥ)

These simultaneous releases, featuring artists who debuted most of these works, promise further acceptance of the music of fascinating Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho. Born in 1952, Saariaho became known in the '80s for her work in electro-acoustics. Her more recent compositions are characterized by a sometimes dark, frequently haunting air of mystery.

The Sony disc features three works written expressly for the soloists. Singing in French, Dawn Upshaw offers the Chⴥau de L'⭥ cycle of five love songs drawn from ancient Hindu and Egyptian texts. Upshaw is fantastic, her characteristic freshness and gorgeous vibrato providing contrast to the otherworldly nature of these songs. The opening Graal Th袴re, written for violinist Gidon Kremer, contains eerie moments of darkness and horror. And Amers, for cellist Anssi Karttunen and accompaniment, was written with the composer imagining, in her own words, "the cello being a kind of boat moving in different directions in this sea of sound of electronics and ensemble."

Naﶥ, distributed by Harmonia Mundi, offers a two-disc set with four gripping electronic works. Thankfully, the vocal work, Lohn, written for Dawn Upshaw, comes complete with translations. Most compelling is the Six Japanese Gardens cycle for percussion and electronics, which realistically conveys the composer's "series of impressions" experienced while seeing sacred gardens in Kyoto. The bonus Macintosh/PC readable CD-ROM offers a deeper understanding of Saariaho's work via discussions with instrumental soloists and musicologists. Great music that unites ancient mystery and ritual with a thoroughly modern acoustic landscape. Jason Serinus

 
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