|What you are looking at in this photograph is four women weeping deeply while they sing to four men who look on with degrees of studied indifference. This is one tableau from the late Claude Viviers Love Songs (1977). The agonizing search for love which directed and ended the expat Canadian Viviers life at 35 is here musicalized in brilliant settings of texts in German from Novalis and Hesse, in Latin from Virgils Eclogues, in English from Shakespeares Romeo and Juliet, and the nursery rhymes One, two, buckle my shoe, etc, Hickory dickory
etc and Twinkle, twinkle little bat
etc. All parts and all languages are sung simultaneously as the piece goes along at prosodic speeds ranging from infantile stammer to the hysterical, with or without tremolos, coloured by coughs, breaths, whistles, whispering, terrible laughs, moans, groans and shrieks. The atmosphere is totally insane and irresistibly engaging because the musical blending of these elements is convincing from the start, and the performances are bulls eye every bar of the way.
I say bulls eye because the Vivier was the last sequence in a program during which Les Jeunes Soloistes, conducted by Rachid Safir established themselves as a group of such integrity that the Paris Opera gives them free hand in choosing the content of three concerts per year. Such is their knowledge and facility that this evenings program (typically) prepared the ground with 8 Madrigals from Monteverdis (1567-1643) settings of poems by Petrarch and Gian Battista Guarini. Next we were taken to the year 2001 with 4 songs from Régis Campos series Les blazons du corps féminin (Crests of the Female Body), in this case the mysterium, the nipple, the charm, and the heart. Campos texts are from 16th Century French poets who competed in the composition of a strange anatomical atlas. From here, a backward and forward leap to the early 20th Century and Trois Chansons by Claude Debussy based on texts by Charles dOrleans, prince and poet who was imprisoned in England after the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. Next to Maurice Ravel who published in 1916 three songs on texts hed written himself. Then fast forward 60 years to Vivier. The experience of journey in this concert was as rewarding as the deeply layered and richly textured part-singing itself.
Following his principle of treating voices instrumentally and assigning one voice for each part of any polyphonic vocal chamber piece, M. Safir guides his ensemble to performances that are precise, finely crafted and distinctively individual (for some songs, he will substitute singers of the same range to get a particular vocal colour). This kind of precision also allows the ensemble to manage deconstructed modern texts or to deconstruct and distribute the syntax of older texts as in Campos Blazon du beau tétin: di bi di bi di bi/ té té té té tin tin tin/ t t t t.
The concert as a whole flowed like a river of vibrations, passionate and witty, in which one could immerse oneself and come out rejuvenated.