Paul Giger: Ignis (ECM New Series 1681)



Paul Giger

Paul Giger violin, violono d’amore
Marius Ungureanu viola
Beat Schneider cello
Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir
Tõnu Kaljuste conductor
Recorded June 1998, Niguliste Church, Tallinn
Engineer: Mado Maadik
Produced by Manfred Eicher

This recording documents a melodious piece of happenstance. Having begun on rather different planes of ECM’s mortal coil, the roving Swiss violinist and the much-in-demand Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir gradually met at the center of a most sonically revelatory circle. The resulting Ignis is a hypnotic experience that reveals new secrets with every listen. For his first label project in seven years since 1992’s Schattenwelt, Giger reworks antique motivic fragments into larger wholes. As such, they become fully formed entities looking inward through the lens of an unparalleled violinism.

Organum,for string trio, inducts us into the album’s haunting universe. Bathed in a luxurious reverb and medieval sentiment, it plunges us deep into the nexus of what’s to come. Karma Shadub, the only original composition here, finds itself resurrected from its appearance on Alpstein to superb choral effect. The EPCC touches every layer with expert care, capturing the arpeggiated flair of the earlier version with a more nuanced legato style. Giger plays like a man possessed of something beyond physical description, filling as much space as the entire choir, if not more.

The following two pieces are drawn from 10th-century Benedictine plainchant. Tropus inverts the spectrum with the violin occupying the central axis around which the other voices reveal themselves. The choir fluffs its feathers, rising from the depths with ascendant violin improvisations, adding harmonic light to an already bursting image. Alleluja is a succinct instrumental statement of utter beauty, and boasts Giger’s skills on the viola d’amore. Last is the astonishing O Ignis. Structured around the selfsame piece by Hildegard von Bingen, it can also be heard on the Hilliard Ensemble/Jan Garbarek’s Mnemosyne. Presently, it is anchored by a gently lilting ostinato in the cello that soon flowers into a supernova of musical activity, carefully controlled by the binding threads of its voices.

This is a radically different sound for Giger, who seems to reinvent himself with every new effort, and one that should provide many discoveries to come. A gray, expansive, and utterly captivating experience awaits.

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