I first encountered Alain Amouyal’s singular vision in the early 2000s but this piece takes those earlier spare and haunting improvisations to a higher through-composed level and was sympathetically performed and recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra (under Paul Mann) and the London Voices at the famous Abbey Road studios. The six linked movements, varying between four and a half and fifteen minutes in length, form the musical component of an “integrated multimedia, opera-ballet”, Orpheus, a kind of 21st century update on the idea of the (Wagnerian) gesamtkunstwerk (total art). The orchestral palette is used to the full, with additional piano obligato and vocal/choral (some to texts, some wordless) contributions, so the piece is naturally more expansive and, in places, even romantic, compared to previous works (a good touchstone, for those who are familiar with the visionary, 20th century English composer John Foulds, would be to contrast his Three Mantras with the more classically restrained Hellas Suite).
Alain’s main inspiration is the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice (“the eternal couple”), filtered through Jungian lenses, and here it is given a modern setting (although various aspects of the opera- ballet manage to appear both simultaneously ancient and modern), which the somewhat prosaic disc title (Frames for a Fairy Tale) does not quite do justice to (something lost in translation I expect).
The piece begins, appropriately, with Temptation, and ends, accordingly, in Certainty, in between passing through a Dance, a March and then Liberation, but there is very much a stylistic unity to the whole. As well as Foulds, musically it sometimes reminds me of the composer’s earlier themes (in its more austere moments) but also owes something to the more lush, orchestral works of Messiaen (Canyons?) and superior soundtrack music (I’m thinking of, say, the Sandpeople theme from A New Hope).
The visual and dance aspects (not on the CD) do help a wider understanding of the music, so forgive me for the following exposition:- the concept storyboard (provided to me separately) invokes all kinds of connections – the animated sections of Pink Floyd’s film of The Wall, Neue Slowenische Kunst’s staging of Krst Pod Triglavom (Baptism Under Mount Triglav) (especially resonant in its similar deployment of Jungian archetypes and avant-garde art history), Wagner’s Ring at Bayreuth (with lyres replacing swords) and the Atlantean/Extra-Terrestrial mythos. Additionally, a couple of scenes appear to invoke the terror of Lovecraft’s cthulhu story and chaotic fractal imagery provides some of the backdrops. If this sounds over the top then that is absolutely not the case, it is presented with taste and restraint. Underlying all this (but perhaps exaggerated by this writer’s imagination), are echoes of Gnostic and Rosicrucian strands of thought harking back through great (but often neglected) artists/ writers like Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, the Lithuanian Oscar Milosz and, inevitably, Jean Cocteau, to the original orphic mysteries.
As a culmination of Alain’s artistic achievements to date, the piece is a triumph and highly individual (despite all the influences, real or perceived) but would gain greatly from being filmed and/or staged. Highly recommended.