Thursday, August 20, 2009

Sacre Bleu!
Le Cantique de Stephan Janco.
I have more than a passing acquaintance with Steven Janco's much heralded "Mass of Angels and Saints." It's almost unbelievable how long it has been around, this heavyweight "contenda" destined to succeed MoC, according to their own publisher's initial publicity campaign of yore.

I have no doubt that the object d'art that hooked me when I first read the Mass setting was that its nose wafted with the aromas of truffles, anise, zitroen and most notably Michel Legrand. Legrand's Mancini (only French) penchant for the lilting melodic hook fascinated me from the day I first heard the music from "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg." Heck, Wendy and I had "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life" sung during the Offertory at our wedding Mass. (It WAS 1974, whadidwe know?)
We even went to a few of Legrand's concerts when he'd blow through Concord.
Janco doesn't quote Legrand in MoAaS, but the motive that he repeatedly quotes (think of the Hosanna from the Sanctus) has that Franco-Euro soundtrack lilt that seems to only invoke "zat zounds zo luffly." And lovely it truly is.
I do remember, upon that first blush, noticing that this lovely tune was, however, less delicately supported by its choral arrangement. In point of fact, the SATB wasn't just inadequate, it was clumsy. I might have scribbled some alternative versions of movements that had the melody in the tenor and/or bass voices, with parallel harmonies assigned to altos and perhaps some contrapuntal descants whose rhythms alternated with those of the motive (think soprano versus alto lines in "Angels we have heard on high refrain")
Like MoC, MoAaS was supposed to be a hybrid; available to modernists and traddie choirs alike. But what was clear is that its metier was clearly geared for the ensemble, a Parisian quartet of piano, archtop guitar, bass and accordian. If you go to its publisher's order page today, you'll see about a dozen items you can order to augment this humble and singable Mass, including the ubiquitous Brass Quintet and Tympani parts! Mon Dieu!
We here in CenCA have infused it into rotation once in a bleu moon, but it doesn't hold our interest for more than a couple of months each go 'round. But, it is still fresh when not encumbered by too much accompaniment hoopla. Less is more, I believe, with this setting. Using a Django quartet and some light voices in the right mix, perhaps a soft soprano or alto sax lightly (not wailing like Jan Garbarek sometimes) improvising, has a nice finish.

Oh, and they used it in New Orleans this afternoon. I couldn't see clearly, but I think it was either Manny Ramirez or Big Papi on tympani.
A little Legrand goes a long way. Oh, and a little Faure to compliment the spiritual would relieve the palate as well. Au revoir.

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