Works by Delibes, Handel, Poulenc, Varèse, Widmann et al
Sarah Aristidou (soprano), Daniel Barenboim (piano); Orchester des Wandels/Thomas Guggeis
Alpha Classics ALPHA781 65:29 mins
Can you capture the ineffable? Sarah Aristidou’s remarkable debut disc Æther explores things within and beyond. She is duly shrouded in mist for the booklet pictures, but there is nothing the least bit wispy about either her formidable coloratura singing or the exceptional programming here. The concentrated intimacy of Varèse’s elegiac ‘Un grand sommeil noir’ opens the disc, with Daniel Barenboim no less on piano. After the neutral colours of this musical expiration, the sumptuous Orchester des Wandels’s appearance feels like a transcendent entry into a new domain.
Framed by two movements from Poulenc’s Stabat Mater, the subsequent exploration of the inscrutable ranges from sublimely redemptive Handel to a commandingly stratospheric Ariel’s Song from Adès’s The Tempest. The progressions are provocative and insightful, links of mood and material balanced by apparent juxtapositions. For instance, a defiantly sassy ‘bell song’ from Delibes’s Lakmé is followed by Stravinsky’s free-flying Song of the Nightingale. Baroque guitarist Christian Rivet’s arrangement of the Swedish folksong ‘Nackens Polska’ initially seems an esoteric, if charming choice. It reveals itself as the melodic source for Ambroise Thomas’s utterly exquisite ‘Le voila, je crois l’entendre’ from Hamlet, hardly standard fare itself.
The premiere recording of Jörg Widmann’s Labyrinth V is the wordless centrepiece. Written for Aristidou’s unaccompanied voice, this compelling, occasionally disturbing tour de force in the tradition of Berberian’s Stripsody takes in everything from maniacal laughter turning to sobs, musing sighs, gurgles, clicks, slaps and obsessive vocalisations. Like the disc as a whole, it is a solid triumph.