Gérard Pape

Opera/Orchestra/Electronic Music

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This CD released in Edition Modern's lackluster "Spectrum: XXI Elite Sound" series offers a selection of Gérard Pape's work that is broader in scope that the earlier release on Mode, but it does so at the cost of focus. The opera "Les Cenci" was still a work in progress when the CD came out. Its "Prelude" and "Act 1, Scene 1" are included. Based on its namesake play by Antonin Artaud, it pairs a bass voice (Nicholas Isherwood) with two reciters adopting over-characterized, Molière-esque voices. The instrumental score uses a 24-piece flute ensemble and a percussion trio backed by a tape part. This unusual instrumentation -- to say the least -- combined to the sung-spoken vocal parts makes for a strange listen. And is Pape's choice of text motivated by the fact that one of the characters bad-mouths the Pope ("pape" in French)? The line "I can see myself going to war against papacy" becomes comical, although this kind of self-referencing is nothing new. The middle third of the disc is devoted to the orchestral composition "Cosmos." Written in 1985, it is heard here in a recording of its live premiere in 1992 by the Kansas City Civic Orchestra. Highly complex and brutal, with trumpets and percussion playing a leading role, it cannot help but evoke Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring," maybe a bit too much for its own good. It also lacks dynamics, adopting an in-your-face stance that will not let go, as if Pape wanted to prove something that has been proven long ago. The last third consists of "Tantric Transformations," a piece of electroacoustics for eight-channel tape (mixed down to stereo here). Built from a short excerpt of Tibetan ritual music, it develops into many swirls and swooshes moving around the stereo field. Minimalist as it is, this drone captivates, literally trapping the listener between the loudspeakers. You may want to listen to these pieces in separate sessions in order to attenuate the hodgepodge feel of the album.

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