Paul Giger: Chartres (ECM New Series 1386)


Paul Giger

Paul Giger violin
Recorded at summer solstice 1988 inside the crypt and upper church of the cathedral of Chartres
Engineer: Peter Drefahl
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Describing the music of Paul Giger is like trying to draw with one’s eyes closed: one can only go so far before the shapes begin to break down. Of the violin Giger possesses an unparalleled understanding, which he brings to every interaction with it. Melodically these pieces are mature, singing and shouting and praying their way through a virtuosic lifetime of exhalation. Giger paints a veritable image of the cathedral, hollowing from the inside out with the edge of his bow, respecting the space that gives the music life.

Each section of this chiefly improvised work was recorded in respective titular areas of the cathedral at Chartres. “Crypt I+II” arises from a breath, played sul ponticello at the threshold of clarity. Occasionally these whispers vocalize into declarations of a chromatic and hymnic theme, the overtones of which Giger molds with great skill. After this introduction the violin trembles as Giger grazes the strings with his fingertip, coaxing multiphonic echoes from their solace. In “Crypt III” he presents the theme more straightforwardly and with pronounced regularity. A touch of vibrato and a hint of vulnerability add color to this sacred song. Giger lays down a sort of bass line to his melodizing as the atmosphere takes a liturgical turn. This is followed by “Labyrinth,” a superbly played dance akin to Irish fiddling that lapses just as quickly into a keening lamentation. This bipolarism continues as Giger puts his extended technique to work midway through the piece, playing the violin percussively on the fingerboard while tapping the strings with his bow for a harmonic overlay. This passage requires careful attention to appreciate the “micromusic” being performed. In “Crossing” we encounter the same material that began the album in ascendant reformation. Giger runs his fingers through the octaves, halting at regular intervals to relate the theme underlying them at every turn. Each pass travels higher, stretching the possibilities of the violin’s harmonic register. Additional voices offer dense harmonies that seem to depend from the cathedral’s lofty rafters for as long as they can in order to convey the ecstasy of their desire. Strings pull at one another, one wishing to rise and the other to remain earthbound, so much beauty is there to tempt them in either direction. Ultimately we are left in a space neither terrestrial nor empyreal. The theme returns, a bird circling overhead, eyes always on the ground below, locking on us, the lowly observers. This crosses over into aching reverie. The final movement, “Holy Center,” is also the most mysterious. Locking into the cathedral’s “key note,” its resonance is self-nourishing, and builds in vocal density through soul and body.

As gorgeous as it is, we can never forget that such sounds exist solely in the realm of the human, and that perhaps only mean something to those who inhabit it. This is also what imbues it with spiritual significance. Here is music created for its own sake, if not forsaken for its own creation.

<< The Hilliard Ensemble: Perotin (ECM 1385 NS)
>> Egberto Gismonti: Dança dos Escravos (ECM 1387)

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