Eben: Faust; Four Biblical Dances

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Faust; Four Biblical Dances
PERFORMER: Halgeir Schiager (organ)
Petr Eben revisited his Faust, first composed in 1976 as stage music, in 1980, making of it this massive organ cycle intended less to tell a story than to express the conflicts in Faust’s soul. His music is rooted in tonality and based on traditional notions of line. There is also, it must be said, something of the same quality of unquestioning faith that makes the music of Messiaen so endearing, even to the agnostic. In Eben’s case, indeed, that quality negates the suspicion that he can sometimes be a rather prolix composer. Faust’s nine movements contain plenty of variety, from the fiery, demonic, machine-like impetus of the movement called Requiem to the magnificence of Epilogue, the martial trumpetings of ‘Easter Choirs’, the poignant sadness of Gretchen, while the ‘Song of the Beggar’, a strange, disembodied interlude, and ‘Walpurgis Night’ evoke the sound of the hurdy-gurdy and ‘Student Songs’ revels in coarse Bacchanalian evocation and in parodistic, trite scholarliness. The Norwegian organist Halgeir Schiager plays the work with real swagger, just what it demands. The Four Biblical Dances strike me as less successful, lacking a grand unifying overview and burdened with a certain conservative restraint, but they are idiomatic and fluidly inventive nevertheless. The sound and flavour of the magnificent instrument of the Hedvig Eleonora Kyrkan in Stockholm are beautifully captured in the recording. Stephen Pettitt