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Enigma Sarah Aristidou, Daniel Arkadij Gerzenberg, Jorg Widmann

Enigma Sarah Aristidou, Daniel Arkadij Gerzenberg, Jorg Widmann

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‘Enigma’ is the Greek word for ‘riddle’, ‘mystery’, ‘secret’. At the moment of entering or leaving life, there is always a sound: the cry of a newborn baby or the last sigh of a dying person giving up the ghost. Soprano Sarah Aristidou sets out in search of the original sound in this program, which opens with Andreas Tsiartas’s Lamento Turco. The voice emerges from silence in a wordless lament on the vowel ‘A’. The piece ends with a heart-rending, ‘archaic’ scream... Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise also uses the vowel ‘A’ ... In Schubert’s Der Hirt auf dem Felsen, a shepherd sings across the valley: ‘The farther my voice carries, the clearer it comes back to me.’ In Messiaen’s Répétition planétaire, the singer’s call ‘Ahi’ is accompanied by the music of the planets and stars... After visiting music by Wolf and Ravel, the odyssey ends with a work by Jörg Widmann for clarinet, soprano and piano founded on the vowels ‘A’ and ‘O’. Naturally, it is Widmann himself who plays the clarinet part, as he does in Schubert’s Hirt auf dem Felsen, with Daniel Arkadij Gerzenberg at the piano.


[This] recital is a mixture of the very familiar and the totally unfamiliar, starting on an exotic note with Tsiartas’s lament, an unaccompanied, wordless vocalise that seems quite a workout for the singer. This is followed by Rachmaninoff’s VERY familiar ‘Vocalise’, also beautifully sung[.] The performance here of the lesser-known ‘A-Oo!’ is warmly expressive. Despite its brevity, this is not really a lightweight song. Ms. Aristidou climbs the vocal heights of Schubert’s ‘Shepherd on the Rock’ with aplomb...a radiant performance, with glowing clarinet playing from Jörg Widmann.

The album notes describe the title work, ‘Enigma’, as “the meeting of the wind and the strings of an Aeolian harp [that] creates a mysterious sound, while soprano and pianist improvise on the search for the answer.” It’s formed around a short text by Mr. Gerzeberg based on a Yiddish poem: “The world asks the old question / stars without mystery / disrupted love / as I fell through the clouds / you became faceless”. I’m not going to claim I’ve worked out what it means yet. It certainly IS an enigma—and a very effective introduction to Wolf’s well-loved song. Ms Aristidou’s [rendering of Wolf's "To an Aeolian Harp"] is gorgeously ecstatic and deeply expressive.

Ravel’s Greek song ["Song of the Lentisk Gatherers"] continues the mood of the Wolf in a more introspective vein, as does Schubert’s Chopinesque vocal ‘Nocturne’, with Ms. Aristidou and her accompanist navigating each twist and turn of reflective melody with aplomb. Messiaen’s spiky "L'escalier redit," with its sparkling accompaniment and vocal leaps, brings a definite change to the mood. Clarinetist Widmann wrote and performs in the long (14 minutes), improvisatory closing work, the Sphinx’s sayings and riddles being based entirely on the vowels A and O, representing Alpha and Omega. It ends on a tentative, questioning note.

This recital is a little more “out there” than Carolyn Sampson’s, but I found it riveting, even the decidedly ambitious closing improv. I like the combination of excellent performances of familiar songs with new, unfamiliar works. Kudos to Ms Aristidou and her partners for endeavoring to give us more than just a boilerplate song recital. The recorded sound is, by the way, excellent, with plenty of spaciousness in the otherworldly closing work.

-- American Record Guide

This Mediterranean-inspired album opens with Andreas Tsiartas’s striking Lamento Turco, an increasingly imploring vocal meditation delivered with passion and imagination by Aristidou. Rachmaninov’s oversentimental Vocalise is then dispatched swiftly, before his ‘A-oo!’, a weighty song of yearning.


[The] performance [of Schubert's "Shepherd on the Rock"] benefits from Widmann’s bright, glowing sound and an expansive, arch-Romantic approach from Aristidou (whose voice is really terrific).

Aristidou’s approach is fine in the earlier repertoire but really comes to life in newer works, including Messiaen’s ‘Répétition planétaire!’ (from the cycle Harawi), depicting the music of the universe. Gerzenberg shines here, too, layering colours and textures with care and craft. The exotic improvisation ‘Enigma’ works well and does not outstay its welcome.

The move to Wolf’s setting of Mörike’s paean to an Aeolian harp is successful, not least because of the exquisitely judged piano sound. Ravel’s popular Greek song ‘Chanson des cueilleuses de lentisques’ is breathtakingly intimate, hazy with sunshine. Schubert’s ‘Nachtstück’ is a touch bland and woolly but redeemed by a luminous rendition of ‘L’escalier redit, gestes du soleil’ (also from Harawi). Widmann’s substantial and otherworldly Sphinxensprüche und Rätselkanons is the perfect close.

This is intriguing and original music making...the performance is tremendously versatile, seductive and white-hot.

-- BBC Music Magazine

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    • Label: Alpha
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