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Le Chant de la Terre

Mahler | Schönberg

Six years after the Symphonie fantastique, Le Balcon issues its new album, Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde.

Gustav Mahler
Das Lied von der Erde (1907)
Chamber orchestra version by Arnold Schönberg (1920), completed by Rainer Riehn (1983)

Conception and artistic coordination by Florent Derex, Baptiste Chouquet and Rémy Gassiat
© 2022 b•records / Le Balcon – – Made in LT – LBM042 – Durée : 1h03

Recorded at the Basilique de Saint-Denis during the Festival de Saint-Denis, on July 2nd, 2020.

Le Balcon
Musical direction Maxime Pascal

Tenor Kévin Amiel
Baritone Stéphane Degout

Flute Claire Luquiens
Oboe and english horn Ye Chang Jung
Clarinet Iris Zerdoud
Fagott Julien Abbes
Horn Joël Lasry
Piano Alphonse Cemin
Harmonium and celesta Sarah Kim
Percussions François-Xavier Plancqueel & Akino Kamiya
Violin You-Jung Han, Valentin Broucke
Viola Andrei Malakhov
Cello Askar Ishangaliyev
Doublebass Simon Guidicelli

Enregistrement à la Basilique de Saint-Denis lors du Festival de Saint-Denis le 2 juillet 2020 – Direction artistique : Florent Derex –  Prise de son et mixage : Baptiste Chouquet – Directrice de production du concert : Iris Zerdoud – Attaché de production et de communication : Gaspard Kiejman – Régie générale : Cédric Joder – Réalisateur tournage : David Daurier – Ingénieur du son : Pierre Favrez – Assistant son : Aurélien Bourgois – Montage : Émilie Ruby –Directeur artistique collections Classique : Baptiste Chouquet – Directeur général : Rémy Gassiat – Label manager : Margaux Willems – Graphisme : Studio Mitsu – Interview : Tristan La- bouret – Édition : Marianne Lagueunière – Traduction : Astra d’Oudney/Scorpio (livret), Emily Ezust (trad. anglaise des poèmes) et Guy Laffaille (trad. française des poèmes) avec l’autorisation de LiederNet Archive – Illustration de couverture : Raphaël Serres – Photos musiciens : Gaspard Kiejman – LBM042 – – Avec l’aimable autorisation de Camera Lucida

Maxime Pascal’s interview by Tristan Labouret

You’re making your recording debut by entering the world of Gustav Mahler with The Song of the Earth; one of his last creations, often labelled a twilight work… Why this choice which some people might consider audacious?

Mahler is a composer who has been with me for a long time and whose music I conducted very early on in my career. What’s more, I previously studied this transcription of The Song of the Earth by Arnold Schönberg when I was a student at the Paris Conser- vatoire in François-Xavier Roth’s conducting class. I feel good about doing Mahler’s music in general, and this work in particular. I sense links with realms close to my heart, such as for example, Gérard Grisey’s Quatre Chants pour franchir le seuil (Four Songs for Crossing the Threshold) which I also discovered when very young. These two works have curious similarities. They were written to ancient texts by composers who were in the twilight of their lives. They were premie- red after the death of their composers and, above all, they end in the same way. At the end of Quatre Chants pour franchir le seuil, the sun will rise after the Flood; at the end of The Song of the Earth, it is said that the earth will blossom once more… So, these are very profound works, very profound works that suggest a kind of music of enlightenment. Moreover, the first time I conducted the complete Song of the Earth as a guest conductor, it was with the Lille ESMD Orchestra, consisting only of very young musicians. It gave quite a distinctive hue to the work, especially in the last mo- vement. It was amazing to see all these young artists playing the “Abschied” (Farewell)!

Arnold Schönberg said to Gustav Mahler that he [Mahler] was a role model for him. To what extent would he also be a role model for you?
He’s a role model for a highly technical reason which crops up all the time in my work – this happened again this morning while I was studying a Stravinsky score! Mahler wrote “dramatic figures”, which is his music’s strength. It’s about sonic ‘gestures’ which combine various parameters (melody, rhythm, dyna- mics, timbre, etc.). Gilles Deleuze spoke about this eloquently in his Abécédaire (Alphabet Book), using a different term. He said that Mahler was the com- poser of the “ritornello”. So, in The Song of the Earth, one hears tavern ritornellos, shepherd ritornellos, and so on. These ritornellos and dramatic figures are all independent evocative gestures, characters; and it is the accumulation of these characters which forms the overall picture, as with paintings by Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Brueghel. That is why Mahler was so important to Schönberg and Alban Berg, who would use exactly the same procedure. And today, Michaël Levinas composes in this way too. That concept of the “dramatic figure” has come to me from him. Yet, it’s that concept which makes it possible to lend reality, a very real physicality to the music. That’s why Mahler is a role model for me. Take, for example, the refrain of the Finale in Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with its first five notes. If one considers that it is a dramatic figure, a character; if one wonders what it conjures up, what it recounts, where it comes from and ‘who’ it is, this allows a musical interpretation to be expressed immediately.

Let’s talk about the overall picture of The Song of the Earth. What do you think about this strange format, halfway between a Lieder cycle and a great symphony with six movements of completely different lengths, including a huge Finale?
To answer this question, one needs to ask what this work sounds like. Mahler’s Second Symphony had already proffered this imbalance towards the Finale but undoubtedly, it’s Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony which comes closest to The Song of the Earth in its form, with that succession of independent move- ments which take on their full meaning and power at the end of the work. We find this in The Song of the Earth. The first movement and “Der Abschied” are the pillars of the work; two gigantic columns which enable access to this musical temple. As for the other move- ments, they are independent. A network of meanings links them together, including a mirror construction, in an arch, from the second to the fourth movement. Mo- reover, in the middle, the third movement deals with reflection in water, the mirror and the bridge… Howe- ver, beyond these considerations, one must accept the imbalance of the form desired by the composer. We must trust the work.

Full interview inside the CD booklet !

Raphaël Serres – Instagram