Dietrich Henschel

À nos amours

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Any ensemble with a name like Diabolicus has to be giving listeners classical music with a large wink at tradition. Diabolicus is a chamber orchestra that varies in size depending on the music, is made up of members of the Orchestre de Paris, and aims to shake things up by juxtaposing classical music and performance venues in unexpected ways. À Nos Amours, the group's first recording, can't give the full effect of this, since it's only the music, but it does present a program that should make the hearer stop and think. At first it seems a fairly typical, salon-like assemblage of light classics, meant to be little love notes to a sweetheart. Closer examination then reveals that the Strauss waltzes, the cheery Schubert song, and even Funiculì-Funiculà were arranged by those bad boys of twelve-tone music: Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern. They were the ones who, as is generally and simplistically believed, reacted to the senselessness of World War I by ushering in a new style of music that is atonal, highly intellectual, and an acquired taste. Yet here they are, making true popular hits even more accessible by making them playable in the smallest of venues by just a few musicians. The one work that isn't arranged is Wagner's Siegfried Idyll, but its warm intimacy fits perfectly with Strauss, et al., as Wagner's reputation as a composer who wanted to change the world view of music fits with that of Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern. The one work that seems slightly out of place is Busoni's Berceuse élégiaque (originally for full orchestra), a very somber, more dissonant work, akin to Strauss' Metamorphoses, that Busoni wrote after the death of his mother. The choice of composer, again, fits with the others, and the justification for the piece, given in the notes, is that the whole program traces the stages of life, from birth to death. However, the completeness of the grief felt in the piece separates it from the other selections, whereas something that has a bittersweet flavor or fond memories mixed with the sorrow would have been a less jarring switch from the dancing joyfulness of Funiculì-Funiculà, which precedes the Berceuse. That said, the Berceuse is played by Diabolicus with intimacy and absolute effectiveness, as are the other pieces. The sound clearly captures the small size of the ensemble, even as it changes, so that this is an album that could be enjoyed by those just looking for an album of well done, traditional salon music, as well as by those who seek to rationalize "light classics" on a more serious level.

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