Héloïse Werner: Close-ups

Héloïse Werner’s first album, Phrases, was received ecstatically. For her second, she wanted to create a programme with a cohesive narrative arc – a journey, but one that the listener can take in their own time and their own way. For it, she has assembled a group of musicians who both share in her concept but also bring to the project their own varied musical personalities to complement Héloïse’s own distinctive voice.

Rightly described by Héloïse as ‘amazing people’, her collaborators – Colin Alexander, Julian Azkoul, Max Baillie, Kit Downes, Ruth Gibson and Marianne Schofield – stitch their individual contributions into close-ups in colours just as vibrant as Héloïse’s own.

"A hotly-awaited second album from soprano-composer Héloïse Werner weaves together a dizzying tapestry of conceptual threads - from a melancholy, fatalistic song by Barbara Strozzi, via a scathing survey of male attitudes to quote-unquote 'hysteria' from the fifth century BC up until the early 2020s, to the macaronic close-ups by Werner herself (to words by her sister), it is an exhilarating and unique journey of discovery"


'French-born, UK-based Heloïse Werner always creates a buzz of activity and makes good things happen ... Werner describes herself as “soprano and composer” (with Meredith Monk it has tended to be the other way round) and it is the central role of Werner’s voice, in a context where both the material and stylistic intent cover a wide range, that is a unifying factor. And yet, one might argue, she has also invited herself to do the impossible ... hat philosophy of uttering interesting or provocative things with brevity is the product of a preternaturally lively and busy mind, and is invariably fascinating'

read the full review here

'Héloïse Werner is a unique voice in contemporary music performance, literally as a soprano with the same astonishing acrobatic versatility as, say, the late Jane Manning, and also as a composer whose music evokes a uniquely translucent freedom of expression. She’s been a key member of the experimental ensemble The Hermes Experiment, but teams up here with a miscellany of similarly minded instrumentalists for a refreshingly personal musical journey chiefly of her own music, interspersed with the fragile simplicity of Errollyn Wallen’s Tree and sublime arrangements of songs from earlier centuries by Barbara Strozzi, Julie Pinel and the iconic Hildegard of Bingen. Her own close-ups is the centrepiece, encompassing spectral enchantment and fiery absurdity. Unexpected Intentionsis as madcap as any Maxwell Davies music theatre piece, Les Leçons du mardi a hysterical musical menagerie. Three improvisations (Echoes) act as transitional meditations. Lullaby for a Sister makes a deeply moving conclusion'

'After demonstrating her remarkable versatility in her debut album, Phrases, singer/cellist Héloïse Werner pushes the boat out further in close ups, her virtuoso vocal effects reaching a new level of rapid-fire intensity ... Werner’s more expressionistic vocal tracks, of which the title track is the virtuosic centrepiece, are reassuringly balanced with several soulful songs, all by women composers. One is Errollyn Wallen’s Tree, the composer’s own arrangement of the original here ending with a beguiling Purcell fantasia-like postlude for strings ... The most effective bridge between those reflective songs and Werner’s pyrotechnics, however, is provided by bass player Marianne Schofield’s arrangement of “Sombres lieux”, a song by the obscure 18th-century composer Julie Pinel. Schofield’s tenebrous, downward slithering glissandos suggests the song’s “dark forests”, whose menacing presence intrudes even as Werner sings'

'As I listened to each captivating track, I felt a sense of the musicians moving around me, almost like a ghostly presence emanating from the speaker. There was a subtle burst of colour here and there, a thoughtful pace that perfectly matched the moment in time ... Such is the magnetic force of the music, particularly Werner's own compositions, which demonstrate a specialist's in-depth understanding of how to effectively use the instrumentation ... Megan Steller's notes, including those on texts and translations, are exceptional ... The textures often seem raw, but they have an aura of warmth. Close-Ups, a piece for violin and soprano, requires an impressive range of tone and technical ability. The focus of the piece is a mixture of sounds that combine in a free style in a piece where the duo needs empathy to get the best effects as they interact with each other ... Originally written for solo voice, Unspecified Intentionswas rearranged for voice and string quintet. Steer writes in the notes that the piece, designed for live performance, insisted on being recorded in a single take in the studio, with the energy evident in the final mix. Lullaby for a Sister sets music by Héloïse’s sister Emma and is written for voice and cello. It is a haunting motif where the voice and cello rebound ... This disc captivates listeners with its improvisational and dramatic concept, blurring traditional sounds while showcasing Werner's technical brilliance, often creating a luminous effect.'

"The centrepiece of an eclectic mixtape, close-upsis an exploration of the human voice, not simply extended techniques (although there are plenty of those: grunts, shrieks and hums are integrated into traditional singing) but shifts between language and tone, those words that are recognisable, those that are not and the spaces in between. The use of spoken word is particularly effective in Les Leçons du mardi, a narrative patchwork about women suffering from 'hysteria' forced to act out their symptoms before a Parisian public. Performing her own work - there is surely no better interpreter - alongside a killer ensemble comprising (in different combinations) violin, viola, cello, double bass and hardanger fiddle (a Norwegian violin with eight strings to the usual four), Werner and her collaborators are co-composers for an interlude that reappears in three guises throughout the album. Scratchy spectralism develops into a guttural outpouring; varied, unidentifiable voices create an unsettled soundscape. This comes to a head in Unspecified Interntions, Werner's gurgling, haunting wordless adventure. Songs by Barbara Strozzi, Errollyn Wallen, Julie Pinel and Hildegard of Bingen - newly arranged for this collection of first recordings - provide compelling context"

"from lip-smacking to lyrical ... the multitalented Héloïse Werner, a singer, cellist, composer, narrator, verbal acrobat and linguistic chameleon, can hardly be summed up in a short phrase ... This is a record full of poise, curiosity and playfulness, the result of close listening and risk by all invovled. Werner and her colleagues make music that is as singular as it is striking"

Release Date: 28 June 2024
Catalogue No: DCD34312
Total playing time: 61:35

Recorded on 18-20 September 2023 at SJE Arts, Oxford
Producer/Engineer: Paul Baxter
24-bit digital editing: Jack Davis
24-bit digital mixing & mastering: Paul Baxter

Cover photograph: Raphaël Neal
Session photography: foxbrush.co.uk
Booklet & traycard design: Eliot Garcia
Booklet editor: Henry Howard

Delphian Records Ltd – Edinburgh – UK www.delphianrecords.com


Singing In Secret: Clandestine Catholic Music by William Byrd CD Delphian Records


Barbara Strozzi:Che si può fare, Op. 8 No. 6

Album Booklet

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