The collection and re-issue of Christina Petrowska Quilico’s CBC recordings of the ‘70s is a cause for celebration. For connoisseur or neophyte alike, these works provide a wonderful overview of five composers whose styles are as different as their backgrounds. The glue that holds this remarkable set together is Petrowska Quilico’s unerring artistry and formidable skill.
The septet from Messiaen’s Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jesus deservedly begins this twentieth century “sampler,” with their uncanny ability to simultaneously look back to Western music’s roots while pushing the present day bar higher for all. No composer since (including the remainder on this CD) has escaped his influence, particularly the expansion of rhythmic possibilities.
The opening “Virgin’s Gaze” with its deceptive child-like simplicity was a marvel of control; Petrowska Quilico builds and yields seamlessly, finding the underlying anger in the angular middle section whose scent of Bartók brings a global timbre decades ahead of its time.
The staid reverence of the “First Communion” was magnificently focussed even when the jazzy eruption tried to highjack the calming line before realizing that it couldn’t break through the shackles of quiet homage to Mary’s special truth.
The fretting of the "Prophets, Shepherds and Wise Men" was captured perfectly through the unstable pulse and the Gershwin-hued theme that only a “child” could control and understand—a compelling metaphor even today.
The “Star’s Gaze” was exquisitely voiced with an impressive variety of touch and tone. A study of contrasts, its “star-quality” theme, hauntingly rendered was kilometres apart from the lurking Dies Irae that had more bluster than substance.
The sturdy left-hand theme tried to bring order to the initially frantic Angels, who, understandably, were in nervous awe of their new master. A few of them tried to lose the pack, stretching their wings with catchy interjections only to be put back in their place by the closing shackles of Brahms-like dotted rhythm.
“The Heights” was magnificent, filled with dreamy excursions and thematic fragments that relied on repeated notes to produce a charming hesitation. Petrowska Quilico got far beneath the notes and, looking watchfully from above, imbued every measure with the held-back secret that even the closing fourths couldn’t solve.
The bells for the "Carol" pealed in angry frustration, unable to draw more attention than the miraculous infant. A last-gasp blues tried to settle everything but after a few mocking riffs was forced back to dissonant ringing.
Such was the level of the playing, if the CD ended here, no one would complain.
Of the remaining works, Davidovsky’s Synchronism VI was the most compelling. Here, Petrowska Quilico managed to find and maintain flexibility even as her unstoppable partner (a pre-recorded tape) moved forward. Her deftness in this role brought to mind the film technique of resurrecting people to the screen and having them interact with characters they will never meet. Overall, there was a compelling sense of drama and interplay—kudos to the engineers for producing such a fine mix.
Brégent’s Geste was the least successful of the group. It has a vast array of colour, dynamics and range, but lacks an overarching vision capable of gluing its disparate components into a satisfying whole.
Similarly, Saint-Marcoux’s Assemblages are, by design, never meant to be performed the same way—like a good piece of jazz, but with the tunes turned backwards, left out all together or relegated to the background. Recording a performance, therefore, seems near sacrilege. Nonetheless, this reading was a fascinating soundscape, overflowing with dissonant bugs and other forms of scurrying life. But when an unintentional near-quote from the “New World” Symphony slipped out, there was a marvellous feeling that even in “chance” music, there’s still nothing new under the sun.
Which leaves Boulez’s Formant 2 - Trope—a free-form collection of four fragments where the performer chooses the order of events, just as the reviewer may do with his observations:
Handful of notes
Space . empty . bottom
JuMpY ---------calm; unreasoned hurt
Edgy Extreme Excite Exact
Start? Stop st-
style stay growl