Hyperion Records

Man of Sorrows
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Wonder and awe describe the opening of Man of Sorrows. Tsontakis refers to the feeling of awakening and discovery in Ecce homo as a ‘form of innocence’. Any specifically biblical connotation of the title makes way for a philosophical meditation. The same quiet will return at the conclusion of the piece, but transformed into a mature and universal serenity—a simplicity that can only be achieved through struggle.

Es muss sein(?) borrows its opening emphatic three-note phrase from the last movement of Beethoven’s final string quartet in F, Op 135. Beethoven entitles the movement ‘Der schwergefasste Entschluss’ (the difficult or sober decision), then assigns three notes each to the plaintive question ‘Muss es sein?’ (Must it be?) and the affirmative response ‘Es muss sein! Es muss sein!’ (It must be!). We can’t be certain of Beethoven’s motivations, but his music suggests jubilation. Tsontakis’s Es muss sein(?) is dire—a challenge to the first movement—the exclamation point abandoned, the question mark appropriated. Labyrinthus leads into the confusion and meandering which ensues.

Lacrymosa (Stabat Mater) is a brief respite before the central crisis of Gethsemane: Shards, as martial threats play against the pianist’s glissandi. While the composer’s instruction is to play ‘like crystalline shards of glass’, this is also when we most clearly hear Tsontakis’s ‘breathing’ chords from Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations. The inhaling and exhaling gesture recurs throughout the work.

Perhaps borrowing from Beethoven’s ‘Es muss sein!’, Jesu Joy — Crucifixus opens optimistically, but the affirmations seem to echo into an unyielding sombreness. How permanent can the ecstasy be? Vir dolorum, ‘man of sorrows’, by returning to the piece’s opening innocence not as a beginning but as a resolution, seems to suggest that there are no certainties, no answers. ‘Es muss sein?’ It must be? Understanding that some questions have no answers is not the same thing as knowing that some questions require no answers.

from notes by Grant Hiroshima © 2007

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