Released today, Phrases is the remarkable Héloïse Werner’s debut disc. A launch concert at the Wigmore Hall recently (which included some but not all of the disc repertoiree) was itself an event, including some pieces not on the album.
The backbone of the disc is a selection of Récitations by Georges Aperghis. Written in 1978, there are 14 in total; we are gifted Nos. 3, 8, 9 and 11. They are remarkable pieces, written for solo voice. Surrealist, virtuoso,Werner relishes every moment, not least the pronunciation of French words.
Here is Aperghis's Récitation No. 9:
Werner performs these works with the utmost integrity; there is not a hint of trickery about them. She is also a composer herself; here is Werner's own Confessional:
This is an amazing ‘confessional’ of what it means to express oneself in a new language. So in the space of this short piece, Werner teaches us a new language in which words, phrases and gestures take on new meaning. A crotale, played by Werner, acts as a bell for a sort of “time out”. It is a funny, absolutely hypnotising piece, its layers prominsing moreon each hearing.
Another virtuoso piece was co-written by Werner and her mentor Zoë Martlew: Syncopate, part of Werner's solo show The Other Side of the Sea:
... and yet another side of Werner is revealed in her astonishing Mixed Phrases,another piece that examines meaning and association, here between the rich-toned viola and words by Arthur Rimbaud (from that poet’s “Phrases” from Illuminations, hence the title) and somehwat more celestial passages:
The surely lachrymose yhyhyhyhyh for voice and cello by Olver Leith uses a de-tuned A-string on the cello (the intention is for it to be eraw and grungy) against which the vocalist intones the title word. The effect is curiously beautiful; perhaps it sounds as if it should be unsettling, but for me it seems to be a lullaby of our time
It is fascinating to hear Elaine Mitchener's whetdream after seeing it realised in live performance. Written using graphical notation (and a photo fof a late-night taxi journey), it comes with an extensive set of instructions. Here, we hear the rustling of bed sheets, timers count down, water is poured into a jug. Werner seems to be trying to speak, phonemes and morphemes (and primordial grunts) all adding to the scene. In a sense, I wish I could re-innocent my ear and hear it minus the visuals: the sound-only recording is a bit like a radio play (an über-Surrealist The Archers, perhaps? - who knows what layers of meaning the innocent ear might add).
Two aspects of Werner herself (French and English) appear in Josephine Stephenson's Comme l‘espoir / you might all disappear (you can hear part of thsi piece in the spotify links below); the composer writes so that the meaning eventually “melt” into abstract sounds. It is more than a fascinating essay; the combination of voice and guitar (the excellent Laura Snowden) is incredibly beautiful.
I remember enjoying Nico Muhly's Benedicite Recitation in the Wigmore concert, particularly how Werner's puity of tone interacted with the warm, agile breathy flute of Daniel Shao (who is also the flautist here). There s someting of a Britten-like plangency to the vocal line: fascinating. Cheryl Frances-Hoad’s Something More than Mortal was not featured in the Wigmore recital is a setting of letters from Ada Lovelace to Charles Babbage
Werner is a member of The Hermes Experiment. Here's a full concert the group gave at teh Wigmore Hall in January 2021 (full programme is underneath the video if you follow this link):Phrases: Héloïse Werner