Christianne Stotijn: If the Owl Calls Again
Song recitals don’t come much more eclectic than this. In the booklet interview Christianne Stotijn reveals her fascination with the owl both as a source of wisdom and as a ‘philosophical recognition of nature, of where we come from’. With Alaskan poet John Haines’s ‘If the owl calls again’ as epigraph, the owl becomes the inspiration for a programme of religious and contemplative songs that, in Stotijn’s words, express ‘both the deepest resonance of the primal force and the voice of uncertainty and doubt’.
You’ll look in vain, though, for the nocturnal bird of prey in the songs themselves, which range from the limpid innocence of Frank Martin’s Chants de Noël via the sultry orientalisms of Ravel and Delage to the Romantic passion and melancholy of Bridge’s early songs with viola. As you might suspect, soulful slowness prevails. Yet the varied sonorities and idioms, and Stotijn’s range of colour and emotional intensity, preclude any whiff of monotony.
Stotijn also proves herself something of a linguistic virtuoso, whether singing in idiomatic French, English or (in two neo-Straussian songs by Joseph Marx) German, or intoning the contemporary Dutch composer Fant de Kanter’s Aramaic and Yiddish prayers with keening urgency. In her own language, she relishes the fun of Kanter’s song about a little boy teaching a dog to pray, abetted by canine woofs and growls from the double bass. Accompanied by the raw, primitive sounds of the duduk, she declaims Ravel’s quasi-improvised lament ‘Kaddish’ with the freedom and fervour of a Jewish cantor. And with the evocative sonorities of the Oxalys ensemble, she vividly catches the mystery, sensuousness and (in the song about the birth of Buddha) pulsing excitement in Delage’s Ravel-influenced Quatre Poèmes hindous.
In the Mussorgsky Stotijn finds a child-like purity of tone, without affectation – a nicely judged touch of breathiness, too, for the flustered boy’s ‘Evening Prayer’. She is simple and sincere in Martin’s ‘Christmas Song’, adorned by chaste flute melismas, and by turns ardent and movingly intimate in the three Bridge songs, where the copper glow of her mezzo is complemented by the dusky-toned viola. Stotijn’s regular pianist Joseph Breinl impresses with the variety and delicacy of his touch. If owl lovers may feel short-changed, Stotijn fans and adventurous song aficionados should need no encouragement to investigate a thoroughly memorable recital.