Nono: Djamila Boupachà; Haydn: Symphony No. 49 in F minor ‘La Passione’; Grisey: Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil
Barbara Hannigan (soprano); Ludwig Orchestra
Alpha Classics ALPHA 586 71:16 mins
That phenomenal artist Barbara Hannigan, who has not only devised, but both sings and conducts this sequence, tells us that ‘La Passione is a triptych: three images, three perspectives of transfigured nights.’ She begins with a searing delivery of Luigi Nono’s anguished six-minute soprano monody in tribute to the tortured Algerian protester Djamila Boupacha. This leads into an account by the Amsterdam-based Ludwig Orchestra of one of the starkest of Haydn’s Sturm und Drang symphonies, No. 49 in F minor, though Hannigan’s rather yielding tempo for the processional opening movement and insertion of many expressive swellings and dying falls somewhat softens its impact, while her slightly too rapid dispatch of the second and forth movements underplays their grim ferocity.
These however function as an upbeat to the main work: Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil (Four Songs for the crossing of the threshold), a 40-minute sequence for soprano and 15 players completed in 1998 by Gérard Grisey, possibly the most lastingly impressive French composer of the post-Boulez generation. Setting a variety of texts about mortality including an extract from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the work unfolds out of white noise and sighing microtones as a kind of ghostly ritual, its spell intensified by the boomings of no less than 15 tuned gongs, disrupted only once by a tirade of polyrhythmic drumming, and dying in a fragile lullaby. The knowledge that Grisey himself died unexpectedly at only 52 shortly before the work’s premiere only heightens the impact of this mesmeric recording.