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Responsio

Blog Opera Obsession
23 novembre 2015

As a medievalist and liturgy nerd with an active interest in new music, I feel that I am standing somewhere quite near the metaphorical bullseye of the target audience for a contemporary Mass setting inspired by Guillaume de Machaut's Messe de Notre Dame. Canadian composer Peter-Anthony Togni's Responsio embroiders upon, responds to, and joyfully interacts with Machaut's hauntingly lovely setting. The resulting music is sometimes meditative, sometimes exuberant, and always interesting.

Togni's Responsio is set for four singers and a bass clarinet, allowing for interesting opportunities of obligato and counterpoint. The resolutely twentieth-century sound of the clarinet (played with virtuosic skill by Jeff Reilly) makes a piquant contrast with the often chant-like purity of the vocal lines. I was impressed throughout with the precision and range of the performers. Machaut's piece emerges sometimes with piercing purity, as in the Introit. Elsewhere, it recedes, giving the contemporary idiom more space to unfold itself. It need hardly be added that this poses a remarkable challenge for the singers, who are asked to handle vastly different melodies and harmonies with appropriate vocal tone, to say nothing of the often challenging timing. To the Mass setting, Togni has added three short "responses" that function as musical reflections on what has come before. It is to Togni's credit, as well as to the musicians', that I never felt these contrasts to be unpleasantly jarring. Rather, through all the contrasts, I felt that the piece was suffused with a creative joy, where veneration for source material and delight in experimentation are inseparable. It's an attitude that could aptly be described as thoroughly medieval.

Blog - Opera Obsession

The WholeNote Magazine
30 septembre 2015

Composer Peter-Anthony Togni has brilliantly created a soundscape spanning the centuries. Togni follows in the compositional footsteps of medieval composers by borrowing, responding and drawing on Guillaume de Machaut’s medieval masterpiece Messe de Nostre Dame (circa 1365). The surprising success of Responsio lies in the strength of Togni’s writing as he then combines and contrasts this medieval groundwork with musical ideas from the intervening centuries.

The vocal quartet score features beautifully crafted four-part, chant-based writing that transcends stylistic periods, with especially dreamy harmonies and luscious counterpoint in the Machaut-based sections. The written and improvisational bass clarinet part moves the 12-section work through the musical centuries into the modern day in a part full of moving reflective passages and fragments of extended contemporary techniques. The best example is the Gloria where the vocalists swiftly and effortlessly switch stylistic tonalities of the centuries while the bass clarinet either supports the singers or works in musical opposition. The section ends with an unexpected yet gratifying bass clarinet blast!

Suzie LeBlanc (soprano), Andrea Ludwig (mezzo-soprano), Charles Daniels (tenor) and John Potter (tenor) are a cohesive vocal quartet with voices that blend tightly together in ensemble and shine as soloists. Bass clarinetist Jeff Reilly is a master of his instrument and the music, and also acts as the recording’s producer.