Country : Canada (Quebec) / France Label : Alpha Classics Genres and styles : Contemporary / Modern Classical Year : 2022

Collectif9 – Vagues et Ombres

· by Frédéric Cardin

It begins with a question such as Would we be able to play Claude Debussy’s La Mer for nine string players and do it justice?, and it ends with a spellbinding album that pays a passionate, sensory homage to the music of Claude Debussy. Vagues et Ombres by the Montrealers of Collectif9 adds another beautiful milestone to the impressive career of a chamber orchestra unlike any other.

Collectif9 is a band of nine of the most dynamic string players on the contemporary Montreal scene. They are excellent, and that is the (essential) starting point of their approach. They regularly invite us to eclectic programmes, balanced between the old and the very contemporary, the traditional and the unusual, but constantly unified by clear and suggestive themes, and above all by a quality of interpretation that is beyond reproach. This is the case here with this ”playlist”, which is vibrantly coloured but overlaid with a chiaroscuro lighting that is fascinating both for the repertoire chosen and for the alert and often surprising discursive animation that brings the whole thing to life.

Four impressionist gems by Debussy (Étude No. 4, Des pas sur la neige, Passepied and Clair de Lune, in superb arrangements by Thibaut Bertin-Maghit, also a double bass player and leader of the group) serve as preludes to the programme’s signature piece, La Mer. To answer the initial question at the root of this whole adventure: Yes, they can play this piece and do it full justice. The opulence of the textures is surprisingly maintained, even with a nonet that is almost ten times more sparing than the normal orchestration of this masterpiece. This is achieved with a deep insight and knowledge of the spatial effects created by the Debussian narrative, so that even with ‘only’ nine musicians, the breadth of the sonic panorama intended by the composer remains intact. Hats off to them.

Photo credit: Danylo Bobyk

Added to this frankly impressionistic universe is the narratively expressionistic music of Montrealer Luna Pearl Woolf, one of the most interesting contemporary voices at the moment. Contact is, according to the composer, a sonic evocation of the underwater world of beluga whales in the St. Lawrence River estuary. One can hear the clicks and wavings constituting the language of these fascinating cetaceans, but also the disturbances created by human activities.

This band makes serious classical music with rigueur and conviction and above all with a remarkable concern for excellence. But it also broadens the palette of necessary expression this still marginal art needs with resolutely modern stagings, performances in unconventional venues for this music (at the Bain Mathieu, for example, or bars), and a sustained investment in highly polished video presentations. Anyway, a classical band with a Bandcamp account can only be a cool one!

Collectif9 is an ensemble rooted in its art but also in its time and generation. It infuses scholarly music with an electroshock of intellectual and emotional relevance that can only rally all those among the Millennials, the Ys, the Zs, and all the alphabets who are looking for a great deal of extra soul in their cultural choices.

To buy the album: https://collectif9.bandcamp.com/album/vagues-et-ombres  (It’s much better for them than going on Spotify! But you can go there too of course)

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