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«lieues d’ombres»

lieues d’ombres is the second collaboration between Swiss contemporary composer (and clarinetist) Jürg Frey, member of the Wandelweiser composers collective and known for his spacious and almost silent compositions, and Dutch pianist-composer Reinier van Houdt, following l’air, l’instant – deux pianos (elsewhere, 2020, together with pianist Dante Boom). The triple album lieues d’ombres features seven of Frey’s solo piano works, written between 1984 and 2018, including one previously unreleased work, «Three Piano Pieces» (from 2017-2018).

The seven solo piano works were recorded at The Muziekcentrum van de Omroep (MCO) in Hilversum over three days in July 2021, with the close attention of Frey, who was present at the recording session and later determined the order of works on the three discs. Frey also did the cover drawings, and these and other drawings of Frey informed van Houdt’s playing during the recording session. Some of the works of lieues d’ombres are long, especially the opening, aptly titled, 40-minute of «La Présence, les silences» (2013-2015) while others are very short, but all radiate Frey’s distinct sensibility of sound and timbre.

Van Houdt has developed a profound affinity with Frey’s music. His intimate, delicate and sparse interpretations explore all hidden, mysterious nuances in Frey’s minimalist and quiet music and are performed with an exquisite balance of warmth and clarity and vulnerable beauty, becoming a definite interpretation of Frey’s music. Frey himself was fascinated by van Houdt’s playing and said that if he was a pianist, he would play as van Houdt does. “The energies that are so well balanced between ‘let the sound just go’ and ‘the mind is working’”, Frey added.

Fellow composer Michael Pisaro-Liu, who wrote the liner notes for lieues d’ombres, links Frey’s music of lieues d’ombres to Wandelweiser school association with silence. «Frey’s music is drawn from a particular silence. It has dimensions, borders, depths – architecture. It begins before the music starts and remains after it ends. It seems to come from the air itself. If one pays close attention to the environment – to the dust drifting down in the light, to the gradations of greyness of shadows, to the smallest movements in the room, to the tonal hum of distant traffic, the music is already There». But, Pisaro-Liu, who has spent hundreds of hours listening to the music of Frey, still discovers in van Houdt interpretations that Frey’s music is guided by melody.

And Pisaro-Liu sums in a poetic manner the elusive beauty in Frey’s music: «presence is coupled with absence. There is surface, but it reveals depths. Brightness is outlined by shadow. Movement is restrained by stillness. Boldness is tempered by humility».

lieues d’ombres is a rare gem of delicate beauty and masterful performance.

Eyal Hareuveni

Reinier van Houdt (p) 

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