Thursday, 4 October 2012

Jonathan Harvey: Correspondances for mezzo-soprano & piano (1975).


I recently had the pleasure of reveing an album of British Song featuring  Meriel Dickinson (mezzo soprano) and Peter Dickinson (piano). The CD included works by Lennox Berkeley, Gordon Crosse, Jonathan Harvey, Elisabeth Lutyens and Peter Dickinson.
However, from this particular listener’s point of view, the hardest work to come to terms with was Jonathan Harvey’s Correspondances (1975). These are settings of four poems by the French poet Charles Baudelaire (1821-67).  The songs are separated by a number of interludes and fragments for solo piano. The ‘novelty’ of this work is that it is left up to the performers to decide which particular order the songs are sung. Just let us hope that pianist and singer agree before the recital!  Harvey has intellectualised this ‘aleatory’ process by suggesting that it is ‘variable, just as in Baudelaire new life may precede or succeed death, and life and death are both contained in love…’  
The ‘blurb’ in the Arkiv CD catalogue states that Jonathan Harvey can be ‘thought of as an English Stockhausen’. I would need to hear more of his music to decide if this is a true or fair assessment. Certainly, based on the present offering, his style seems to be more approachable than the German ‘meister.’ Much of this song-cycle is moving and often quite beautiful. Baudelaire’s poetry has never been a favourite of mine: it is dark, ‘satanic’ and often depressing. However, as Paul Verlaine wrote, [Baudelaire’s poetry represent[s] powerfully and essentially modern man in all his physical, psychological and moral complexity.’ He is a poet that transcends the stylistic hiatus between ‘romanticism’ and ‘modernism.’ Harvey’s music is distinctly modern with its emphasis on symbol and suggestion – however there is a strong infusion of the more romantic qualities of emotion and straightforward musical statements. Whatever my personal tastes are, there is no doubt that one is in the presence of a masterpiece with Correspondances.  I understand that this was Harvey’s first recorded piece.
Jonathan Harvey’s Correspondances can be heard on the Heritage Label (HTGCD240) with Meriel Dickinson and Peter Dickinson

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