WQXR’s Album of the Week: Terrestre

C’est si bon on Claire Chase’s Terrestre

By Olivia Giovetti
Published: Monday, April 09, 2012
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Sure, Claire Chase’s Terrestre may not boast the ear-worminess of “Zou Bisou Bisou,” the latter of which was sung on last month’s season opener of Mad Men (and subsequently by everyone everywhere the following Monday morning). But, much like the French pop ditty, there’s something immediately captivating, compelling and compulsive about this feisty flautist’s newest solo album.

Chase, one of the indefatigable forces behind the International Contemporary Ensemble, has never been one to hide her voracious appetite for new music, as seen on her 2009 debut solo album Aliento. But here, she also shows off her magnetic ringleader persona, bringing together a number of performers to accompany her on an odyssey through Saariaho, Carter, Boulez, Fujikura and Franco Donatoni.

Worth the price of admission alone is the world-premiere recording of Kaija Saariaho’s Terrestre, an opening track that percolates with a gamine energy and beguiling bird calls (this is a revamped version of the second movement to Saariaho’s flute concerto, set to poetry by Saint-John Perse that evokes birds in flight). Rather than adopt a Messiaen complex, Saariaho’s piece delves into the soaring psychological aspects of being able to take flight at will, and Chase makes each of those requisite soaring dives along with members of ICE.

Throughout the album, Chase displays a dreamy flute technique, ringing crystalline and clarion when she wants to, but also exploring the textural possibilities of the instrument in pieces like Donatoni’s Fili and Boulez’s Flute Sonatina (both played with pianist Jacob Greenberg). She balances disturbingly well with partners like clarinetist Joshua Rubin on Elliott Carter’s 1985 duet Esprit Rude/Esprit Doux. We hear her completely solo on another world-premiere track, Dai Fujikura’s Glacier for bass flute, the effect of which creates a low and languid pace across a frozen five minutes.

As a bonus track, we’re treated to a roundabout thematic conclusion that ties the whole album together in a neat bow: Chase’s reading of poet Laura Mullen’s Was O (a soundalike for the French term for bird, “oiseau”). In speaking, Chase captures the lyrical rhythms of the preceding pieces—“Was O” is said in the same cadence as the first two notes for the preceding Fujikura work—and thematic currents. After listening to this unorthodox encore, you may be tempted, perspective renewed, to listen to the preceding five tracks again.