Monday 2 March 2015

A new release of works by the Flemish composer Wim Henderickx by the HERMESensemble with mezzo-soprano Mireille Capelle proves to be an astounding disc full of terrific textures, harmonies and colours

Wim Henderickx studied composition at the Royal Conservatoire of Music in Antwerp, where he also studied percussion. He took part in the ‘Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik’ in Darmstadt and attended sonology classes at Ircam in Paris and at the Royal Conservatory of Music in The Hague.

Since 1996 Henderickx has been Composer in Residence at the Muziektheater Transparant and in 2013 he joined the Royal Flemish Philharmonic (deFilharmonie) as Artist in Residence. He teaches composition and musical analysis at the Conservatories of Music in Antwerp and Amsterdam and is also the main teacher of the Summer Composition Course for young composers in Neerpelt, Belgium.  

Many of his works are influenced by oriental music and philosophy. Following a trip through India and Nepal he wrote the Tantric Cycle (2004-2010), seven compositions with the Orient as a source of inspiration. He received the International Prize for Contemporary Music Flanders-Québec (1993) and the Eugène Baie I Award (1999). In 2002 he became ‘Laureate from the Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium’ and in 2006 he was nominated for the Flanders Culture Prizes. In 2011 he received the 'Lifetime Achievement Award' at his birthplace Lier, Belgium.

His work has been performed by major ensembles and orchestras in Belgium and abroad. His compositions include operas, choral and vocal music, orchestral works including a symphony and concertos, chamber works, piano works and electronic music.

2nd March 2015 sees the release of works by Wim Henderickx performed by the HERMESensemble on their own label distributed by Launch Music International.  The ensemble is directed here by the composer.

HERMESensemble are joined by mezzo-soprano Mireille Capelle for Disappearing in Light (2008), the fifth part of Henderickx’s Tantric Cycle inspired by Eastern philosophy and written for mezzo-soprano, alto flute, viola, percussion and electronics. It was commissioned by Antwerp artist and art collector, Axel Vervoordt and brought about the composer’s first meeting with HERMESensemble.

In five movements, Darkness opens with a sudden viola chord soon joined by a flute in staccato phrases, before mezzo Mireille Capelle in a declamatory recitative. The soprano does not sing a real language or even an invented one, Henderickx making use of vocal speech sounds to achieve the vocal expression he requires. The vocal sounds give the music much of an Eastern flavour. Soon the music drops to a quieter passage with flute and hushed mezzo against viola and electronics in a very atmospheric section, quiet haunting. The music increases in agitation with some remarkable singing from Capelle between her Sprechgesang style of vocal projection. Another quiet passage follows where there are some lovely textures for mezzo, flute and violin and electronics before slowly rising in drama again. Before the coda is reached, there are more lovely hushed phrases and little details, picking up in passion to lead to the end.

The three main sections of this work are separated by two mantras with Mantra I opening with tapping sounds and sudden loud phrases from the mezz-soprano. Mireille Capelle is impressive in this challenging vocal writing with Henderickx’s little silences adding much to the atmosphere of this piece before leading into Meditation where a gong sounds. A silence follows followed by more textured gong strokes. When the mezzo-soprano enters she does so quietly accompanied by percussion decorations. Capelle brings an intoxicatingly fine chant style vocal contribution as she is accompanied by the sound of gong and tubular bells weaving through with a beautiful vocal line, rising occasionally in passion before slowly leading to a gentle, lovely hushed coda.

Mantra II brings a rasping flute motif soon joined by the mezzo-soprano in a hushed opening that soon rises in dynamics. It is again Henderickx’s silences that create a real sense of anticipation and wonder.  As the mantra progresses Capelle brings some very fine, rich lower notes.

Light opens with resonant, deep rumble from the percussion and electronics before the flute makes a tentative entry against subtle percussion sounds. Mezzo-soprano, Mireille Capelle merely hints at breaths of sound, adding to the rumbles and flute phrases. Subtly pizzicato viola joins and, together with percussion and mezzo-soprano, slowly increase the passion and drama. It is impressive how Henderickx builds such fragmentary themes and motifs to create the feeling of something more structured and coherent. Later the mezzo-soprano introduces more melodic phrases and there are some especially subtle textures and harmonies between viola and flute.  Eventually bolder flute phrases combine with headier phrases from the mezzo-soprano showing her tremendous range and technique as she moves from hushed higher notes to rich, more expressive, lower ones before finding a plateau to end.

This is rather individual music quite unlike any other composer I have heard. For all its exotic and unusual writing this music holds the listener’s attention not by gimmicks but by pure beauty, atmosphere and invention. This performance is first rate and something of an achievement for Mireille Capelle and HERMESensemble.

Raga III (2010) for viola and electronics is based on the ‘Shri raga’, a meditative, raga performed at sunset. Raga III opens with a lovely held harmony from the viola and electronics, the viola developing textures and harmonies. This is an impressive joining of Eastern intervals and harmonies with Western classical form particularly as the music builds and moves forward, the viola developing a fine theme over the electronic textures. Violist Mark Tooten delivers some very fine playing, weaving rich, vibrant textures and building in dynamics, complexity and drama. The music builds a terrific weaving of melody textures and colours with lovely electronic sounds provided by Jorrit Tamminga.  Later the music moves to a quieter passage with a lovely Eastern inflected theme before rising to a peak. Towards the end, the music slowly falls through a quite exquisite melodic passage before the viola falls silent as the quiet electronic backdrop leads to the hushed coda.

Raga III is a good place to start when getting to know this composer’s music.  Mark Tooten and Jorrit Tamminga combine to provide some lovely sounds.

The Four Elements (2011) for mezzo-soprano, flute, violin, clarinet, cello and electronics is in four movements and is based on material from one of Henderickx’s musical theatre works, Void. Again Henderickx has his mezzo soloist making use of vocal speech sounds to achieve his own style of vocal expression.

Air opens with soft breathed sounds from mezzo-soprano Mireille Capelle and a soft textured flute motif from the flute of Karin De Fleyt. Subtly and quietly the mezzo-soprano adds textures and sounds that blend wonderfully together.  The flute brings a fine melodic version of the theme which it varies as the mezzo rises above it before the mezzo, flute and electronics weave the theme forward. There are some very fine textures and timbres created by Capelle and De Fleyt.

Cellist, Stijn Saveniers brings strident phrases to the opening of Fire before mezzo Mireille Capelle enters in this dramatic movement. Capelle brings some impressive declamatory outcries and vocal phrases against dramatic cello phrases before a quieter, more thoughtful central section arrives. However, violent cello phrases lead to a dramatic passage for cello and mezzo, building an impressive section before the sudden end.

Gentle little droplets of sound from the electronics bring us to Water, soon overlaid by a clarinet theme with something of a Japanese flavour. The mezzo then joins, bringing some atmospheric vocal sounds, strange and dissonant, that harmonise with the clarinet especially well. There are moments of exquisitely controlled passion, drama and sensitivity from Mireille Capelle, moving through passages of melodic beauty though with unusual and exotic harmonies and intervals. The lovely rippling electronic water sounds with a bubbling clarinet theme leads to the coda.

Earth brings a thunderous electronic phrase soon joined by the violin chords of Orsolya Horvath before the mezzo-soprano joins with a dramatic vocal contribution. The thumps of electronic sounds and violin chords continue in this quite spectacular, dramatic movement, brilliantly performed with violin and electronic thumps leading to the coda. 

This is an astounding disc full of terrific textures, harmonies and colours. It is impressively recorded with exquisite instrumental detail. There are informative booklet notes with cover pictures of works by sculptor Anish Kapoor and painter and sculptor Lucio Fontana as well as reproductions of the composer’s musical ideas for the score of Disappearing in Light.

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