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Recordings

RCO 17005
28 Jul 2017

Detlev Glanert : Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch

Detlev Glanert's Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch should be a huge hit. Just as Carl Orff's Carmina Burana appeals to audiences who don't listen to early music (or even to much classical music), Glanert's Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch has all the elements for instant popular success.

Detlev Glanert : Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch. Markus Stenz, Royal Concertgebouw Amsterdam.

A review by Anne Ozorio

RCO 17005 [CD]

€ 12.99  Click to buy

It helps that the paintings are so much part of popular culture that everyone recognizes his images of extreme excess. Bosch’s people wear medieval dress, but their actions depict the subconscious, the ‘Id’ and existential guilt in operation, centuries before the concepts of psychology found expression in formal language.

Like Carnina Burana, Glanert’s Requiem is highly dramatic music theatre, adapting the cataclysmic dreamscapes of Bosch’s paintings into music of extremes as lurid as Bosch’s images. Glanert’s Requiem unfolds in 18 episodes, rather like panels in a medieval triptych. This gives the piece structure, making it easy to follow. The teeming, sprawling panoramas Bosch depicts could plausibly be depicted in sound, but that would probably be asking too much of most audiences. Like Bosch, though, Glanert’s piece replicates extremes. Literally heaven and hell, for the premise is the judgement Bosch faces after death. Thus the standard elements of a Requiem Mass are interleaved with the Seven Deadly Sins, the acrid flames of hellfire whipping against the smoke of incense.

A harsh Voice (David Wilson-Johnson, narrating) calls from above “Hieronymus Bosch!” Immediately we spring to attention. Bells ring,. Throbbing, rushing figures in the choral line, suggesting the doomed hordes we see in Bosch’s paintings. The orchestral lines veer wildly, lit by screaming brass, the chorus screaming to crescendo. Suddenly the forces fragment and, from the silence, a slow, low penitential intonation. An abstract ‘Requiem Aeternam’, the choral line flowing ambiguously, in almost microtonal haze. like smoke. In ‘Gluttony’ the bass (the aptly named Christof Fischesser) sings of food, his lines circular and rotund. The text may be in Latin, but the meaning is clear. The choir responds with the long, thin lines of an ‘Absolve Domine’, reinforced by ‘Wrath’ with tenor (Gerhard Siegel) and a ‘Dies Irae’ which ends with a vivid orchestral flourish. Another demon, ‘Envy’, fights back. Soprano Aga Mikolaj’s fluid, curving lines mimic the lines in the “heavenly” chorus— imitation is a sign of envy!

But the serene ‘Juste judex’ prevails. But where are we? The organ solo (Leo van Doeselaar) lets rip with a frenzy that suggests a cathedral organ hijacked by ‘Satan’. Despite the extremes of volume and tempi, the lines between heaven and hell are, tellingly, blurred. In ‘Sloth’, the soprano sings langorously, joined in sensuous duet by the mezzo (Ursula Hesse von den Steinen). ‘Pride’, ‘Lust’ and ‘Avarice’ appear, but the balance shifts towards the big guns : Full choir, offstage choir, and orchestra in increasingly full throttle : listen for the jazzy culmination of the ‘Domine Jesu Christe’. and the funky trumpet that heralds the ‘Agnus Dei’.

With the ‘Libera Me’ and ‘Peccatum’, we are in Carmina Burana territory, bursting forth in a blaze, the earthly chorus in raucuous flow, augmented by brass and percussion and the offstage chorus singing of ‘lux perpetua’. Big forces. But is might right? Glanert’s Requiem ends ‘In Paradisium’, here the ‘Voice from Above’ recites lines from the Book of Revelation. Apocalyptic visions, marking the end of the world and of time. Now, when the Voice screams “Hieronymus!”, he doesn’t add a demonic epithet. With an unearthly low hum, the choir sings of the chorus angelorum that brings eternal rest.

Glanert’s Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch was commissioned to celebrate Bosch’s 500th anniversary, and premiered in Sint Janskathedraal, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, in April 2016. So it’s a public piece rather than a work of inward inspiration. It must be great fun to perform, without being particularly demanding, technically or interpretively. It could, in theory, be performed elsewhere, much as Carmina Burana is, these days. It is admirably performed on this world premiere recording made in November 2016 with the top-notch Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam, conducted by Markus Stenz.

Glanert was one of Hans Werner Henze’s few disciples. Henze’s political beliefs influenced his music, though he never sacrificed high artistic and intellectual standards. Glanert is a man of the theatre, too, with a more earthy sense of humour than Henze had, though that quirkiness isn’t too obvious. When the ENO did Glanert’s opera Caligula, London audiences just couldn’t get it. (Please read HERE what I wrote about Caligula, which I first heard in Frankfurt). In this Bosch Requiem, Glanert again mixes grotesque with irony. Just as the vastness of Carmina Burana appealed to Nazi taste, the vastness of this Requiem veers on parody. Will it be loved for its vulgarity or its irony? Just as the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch reveal the viewer, Glanert’s Requiem reveals the listener.

Anne Ozorio

   

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