Formed in the summer of 2003 by François-Xavier Roth www.francoisxavierroth.com , Les Siècles http://lessiecles.com comprises outstanding young players drawn from the finest French ensembles. Roth’s founding ambition was for his orchestra to offer a new approach, not only to repertoire but also to the nature of the concert form.
With a vast period instrument collection at its disposal, spanning the baroque, classical, romantic and modern eras, the orchestra’s repertoire is notably wide in range. Les Siècles is one of a small number of ensembles to employ period and modern instruments, playing each repertoire on appropriate instruments.
François-Xavier Roth and the musicians of Les Siècles have given well over 200 performances in France alone, including regular performances in Paris and appearances at leading festivals throughout France. Internationally they have performed in Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, London, Germany, Portugal, Italy and Japan.
Their recording of Stravinsky’s Firebird has received critical acclaim in the international press resulting in a number of awards. In partnership with Musicales Actes Sud www.actes-sud.fr/collection/musicales-actes-sud they have recently created their own record label Les Siècles Live with which they have recorded works by Berlioz, Saint-Saëns, Dubois, Liszt and Debussy.
Their latest release on the Les Siècles Live label is of works by György Ligeti, his Six Bagatelles and Dix pour quintette à vents, both for wind quintet, and his Kammerkonzert for orchestra.
György Ligeti (1923-2006) was born in the Romanian city of Tirnăveni. He studied at the Budapest Academy with Ödön Farkas (1851-1912), Sándor Veress (1907-1992) and Pál Járdányi (1920-1966), later teaching there. His compositions at that time reflected the influence of Bartók and Kodály though he did write some more adventurous pieces. In 1956 he left Hungary for Vienna before working at the electronic music studio in Cologne. His first work to reach international prominence was Atmospheres (1961) that used slowly changing orchestral clusters.
This led to teaching appointments, first in Stockholm then in Stanford and Hamburg.
Ligeti developed the idea of making texture as much of a driving force in musical architecture as pitch or rhythm, developing what he called a micro-polyphony of densely compiled musical lines, making the listener more aware of an ever-changing amorphous cloud of sound than the movement of individual instruments or voices. His compositions encompass opera, orchestral works, chamber and instrumental music and choral works.
For their new release Les Siècles have taken both chamber and orchestral works from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s to provide a good cross section of his music.
Ligeti’s Six Bagatelles (1953) for wind quintet were commissioned by the Jeney Wind Quintet and is an arrangement of his Musica ricerata for piano.
The first of the bagatelles, Allegro con spirito brings a lively, jolly little theme that swirls along with a terrific little coda. For the Rubato. Lamentoso the oboe brings a lovely melody around which the other instrumentalists weave, soon sharing and then combining to play the theme, expertly written and played here. The music builds through some fine harmonies and textures, very individual yet wholly approachable. The Allegro grazioso brings a spiky little theme for clarinet and bassoon around which the others join to develop a great little bagatelle.
The quartet sounds out a chord to introduce the Presto ruvido before developing a rhythmic, rather syncopated theme, running through some fine variations in its short length. The Adagio. Mesto (In Memoriam Béla Bartók) opens solemnly before the flute appears with a slow melody. The flute is interrupted by an outburst that leads to a more vibrant passage before the music finds a quieter stance to gently find its way to the coda, with some lovely little woodwind ideas. The clarinet and bassoon lead with a fast moving theme in the opening of the concluding Molto vivace. Capriccioso. The rest of the quintet joins to weave a lively final section that, nevertheless, concludes with a quizzical motif.
The orchestra of Les Siècles come together for Ligeti’s Kammerkonzert (1970). It was first performed at the 1970 Berlin Festival and explores the idea of micropolyphonia, a multitude of polyphonic activity.
Corrente (Fließend), pour Maedi Wood opens with some terrific textures and harmonies from François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles. This is recognisably the same composer as in 1953 yet with a more highly developed style. It develops through some wonderful, subtly changing textures with a high held note appearing in the orchestra, out of which the lower orchestra brings solemn chords that flourish through a more dynamic section. It then reaches a dramatic pitch before finding a quieter coda.
In four movements, it opens with Calmo Sostenuto, pour Traude Cerha where a theme slowly emerges from a held orchestral chord. It is wonderful how Ligeti allows his music to expand gently and to subtly blossom, with so many little orchestral details emerging, especially in this fine performance. The music throughout seems to gently simmer and bubble. Soon brass sound through briefly and stridently before the music descends again into the deep calm. However, a more sustained outburst arrives from the woodwind which brings a brightly lit swirl of sound that slowly descends through the strings before fading in the coda.
Movimento preciso e meccanico, pour Friedrich Cerha brings a bubbling idea for woodwind to which pizzicato strings and piano join. Ligeti soon develops some effective, slowly changing orchestral harmonies and textures before the theme gains a more rhythmic, aggressive stance. The music develops again from a quiet interlude to bring strident, shrill, pulsating chords that move into pizzicato chords before a single note announces the coda.
In the concluding Presto, pour Walter Schmieding the orchestra bubbles quietly before a motif rises up in the strings to lead into a brighter textured section. A myriad of orchestral murmurings are heard as the music moves rapidly forward, the piano joining in a particularly vibrant and transparent passage. The piano appears again in the depths of a jostling orchestral motif before rising in the strings with discords to find a transparent and vibrant coda.
The wind quintet of Les Siècles return for Dix pour quintette à vents (1968). It was written after Ligeti became an Austrian citizen and was first performed by its dedicatees, the soloists of the Stockholm Philharmonic in 1969 in Malmö, Sweden.
The architecture of the work is based on the alternation of its ten movements and miniature concertos. The Molto sostenuto e calmo opens with a sonorous chord from the quintet, out of which individual instrumental lines and textures are developed, slowly and quietly bringing some quite lovely harmonies. Soon various instruments sound out on single notes, developing as they join, with some striking harmonies to conclude.
The Prestissimo minaccioso e burlesco brings punctuated notes from the quintet that lead to a rapid swirl of ideas, suddenly stopping and starting before a bright toned coda. The Lento develops slow, long breathed harmonies and textures around which a pulsating theme is heard. The quintet weaves a fast flowing tapestry of brightly coloured ideas in the Prestissimo leggiero e virtuoso before staccato ideas quickly circle each other in the fleeting Presto staccatissimo e leggiero.
Lo stesso. Presto staccatissimo e leggiero has equally vibrant, fast moving ideas that flutter around before a more decisive section leads to a hushed coda. Short and sharp staccato phrases appear for the Vivo, energico, increasing in dynamics and impact before weaving a tapestry of brightly textured sounds.
The Allegro con delicatezza brings a rocking motif of quietly formed ideas that slowly develop through changing ideas before a more sonorous, long held coda. A shrill clarinet note opens the Sostenuto, stridente with an insistent repeated idea to which the others join to subtly expand the theme only to lead to a sudden conclusion. The bassoon leads the quintet forward in a rather humorous Presto bizzaro that jumps around before ending on a single bassoon note.
This is another winner from François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles. They receive tip top live recordings from la Chapelle St Martin Du Mejan, Arles, Frnce and la Cité de la Musique et de la Dansela, Soissons, France. There are excellent booklet notes from François-Xavier Roth as well as some effective photography in the booklet.