SAARIAHO La Passion de Simone
You probably need to care deeply about Simone Weil in advance in order to get the most from Kaija Saariaho’s beautiful yet also unremittingly earnest commemoration of her. Weil (1909-43) was a French-Jewish politico-religious philosopher with non-Party-line communist sympathies, who died in wartime London from malnutrition, apparently self-inflicted in sympathy with the sufferings of occupied France. The incompatibility between her ideals and surrounding reality places her in a line of female figures with whom Saariaho passionately identifies.
A guiding idea for the work is the polarity of light and gravity. Though the orchestral and electronic components are magically seductive, as always with this composer, both the concept and the realisation make active engagement with the texts virtually a prerequisite.
Saariaho’s music carries me with it in more or less direct proportion to the distance it keeps from the spoken word. That’s to say that its instrumental sections are more consistently engaging than the somewhat tortuous solo and choral writing, which in turn I find easier to take than the spoken declamations that appear in most of the 15 movements (or ‘stations’). Dawn Upshaw does as much with the demanding vocal lines as anyone could expect of her, and Salonen and his forces keep everything in sharp focus.
Ondine’s informative booklet directs us to a site illustrating the 2012 choreographed concert performances, with back-projections, from which this excellent recording is taken – barriere.org/LaPassiondeSimone-visual.html. That visual dimension strikes me as an entirely appropriate complement to a score that was originally performed in 2006 in a staged version directed by Peter Sellars. Is it too much to hope that one of those events was recorded for DVD?