Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Opus Arte
WORKS: Rêves d’un Marco Polo; documentary ‘The life and work of Claude Vivier’
PERFORMER: Susan Narucki, Lani Poulson, Claron McFadden, Kathryn Harries, Karl Daymond, Johan Leysen; Asko Ensemble; Schönberg Ensemble/Reinbert de Leeuw; dir. Pierre Audi (Amsterdam, 2004)
Ritualistic and obsessed by death, the music of Claude Vivier inhabits dark places. An orphan and an outsider, he began to be known beyond his native Canada only after his murder by a casual pick-up in Paris in 1983, and Cherry Duyns’ documentary paints a comprehensive picture of a man who was plainly wilful and difficult, but one who also inspired fierce loyalties among his friends and colleagues.


The performance consists of a

two-part piece of music theatre: the first, Kopernikus, subtitled ‘A Ritual Opera of Death’, is very strange. A handful of singers and players move around a set consisting mostly of scaffolding, and participate in a drama which is sadly almost incomprehensible, not least because most of it is in an invented language. The music doesn’t always hold the attention: it moves slowly, often in single or parallel lines, sometimes sounding simultaneously like Pérotin and Xenakis, with inflections from the Far East, and a final chorus with Messiaen-like harmonies.

Following an unrealised plan of Vivier’s, the second part is a minimally-staged conflation of existing non-theatrical works,


and is much stronger musically. There’s even some fast music in Shiraz, a solo piano piece with echoes of Ligeti (one of Vivier’s early admirers). But the highlights are Lonely Child, essentially a long, keening melody, beautifully sung by Susan Narucki; and the extraordinary final number ‘Do you believe in the immortality of the Soul’, where Vivier’s own words foresee his death by stabbing. A little goes a long way in performances as dedicated as these. Martin Cotton