Turbulent Heart

Michael Quinn
BBC Music.co.uk (UK)

Belated though the publication of this review is, this could well be the discovery of 2009, featuring thrilling first performances of orchestral songs that churn and boil with drama and emotion from a wholly unexpected source – Louis Vierne – coupled with the first recording of Chausson’s Poème de l’amour et de la mer by a tenor.

Composed during the First World War, Vierne’s ‘symphonic poems for voice and orchestra’ startle with their bravura histrionics, moments of spellbinding stillness and plush, Wagnerian-tinged colouring. Rooted in the aggravations of encroaching blindness, divorce and the loss of loved ones, they exploit hauntingly dyspeptic poetry and heart-on-sleeve passion to the full.

Setting a text by Victor Hugo, Les Djinns is a combustible tale of errant spirits that ignites into a maelstrom of fiery virtuosity and mysterious, hypnotically scented atmospheres. No less exotically perfumed is a second Hugo setting, also composed in 1914. Taken from the Chansons des rues et des bois, Psyché’s dark, smouldering melody cossets an elegant array of softly pleading inquiries that draws from young Australian tenor Steve Davislim a masterly performance blending subtlety and precision with honeyed lyricism.

Composed in 1916, Eros is a rapturously evocative hybrid – Wagner’s Tristan out of Debussy’s Pelléas – all ripe, luscious melodies, shadow-lit sonorities and unabashedly romantic. Posthumously orchestrated by Duruflé in 1945, Ballade du désespéré proves a gripping Mephistophelean dialogue between a poet and a stranger who reveals himself to be Death incarnate, its high drama and eavesdropping intimacy marshalled with impeccable flair and feeling by Guillaume Tourniaire. Listen on headphones and you’ll find yourself in an epic of compelling proportions.

Heard here for the first time with a tenor voice, the register it was originally written for, the ravishing triptych Poème de l’amour et de la mer boasts a majestic sweep and grandeur all of its own and out of which Davislim, Tourniaire and a Queensland Orchestra firing on all cylinders squeeze every ounce of emotion and drama.

Inspired performances all round, then, in textbook perfect sound and lavish packaging, Turbulent Heart boasts three fast-rising young names to look out for in the years ahead: Davislim, Tourniaire and the enterprising Australian label, Melba Recordings.