Nocturnes is French composer Mathieu Karsentis’ latest releases and his return to non-pianistic music — in fact it features Violeta Vicci on violin and viola, and George Millar on clarinet and flute — as well as a musical form unexplored yet by the composer. The project is an obvious wink at Debussy’s work — which has been scored for a much larger orchestration than Karsenti’s — and equally Ravel’s music. It remains centred on the theme of night — after Clair-Obscur and its light/darkness duality — transitioning from the theme of colours to the one of time. If art and painting is still very present, it is a lot less a focal point of the project in terms of the lexical and the linguistic universe. The composer presents his pieces as meditations, reflections and conversations between the instruments. As often, Karsenti oversees all aspects of his art, from the music to the visual art. For those who know little about him, he has trained in graphic arts and has often seen his music through the eyes of the painter.
Impressionism is a strong influence which colourises the album from its opening “Dusk” with its elegant Debussy-esque quote. “Questions” reminds quite a bit of Karsenti’s previous releases, and his now much recognisable, almost celestial, East meets West sound. This sensation is revealed again in “Swept Away”, a sum of Karsenti’s past projects; this piece evokes a modern approach to shaping sound and reveals the composer’s craft at creating evocative soundtracks and blending genres, instruments, and styles. “Temptations” follows on similar ideas and evokes some of Karsenti’s former influences — such as the sounds of the Eastern world. “Interlude” is a brief return to the piano, and the contrapuntal-signature of Karsenti comes back to the surface. It is a moment for the composer to enjoy the absence of his main protagonists instruments. “Midnight Drive” is an interesting piece; on past releases, Karsenti used to focus on a few elements and maximise their usage, whereas it seems that the composer — particularly in this piece — uses a wider variety of musical tools in order to create balance between traditional and modern, acoustic and electric. A good ear will of course note the use of electronic percussion, a rarity in the composer’s works. “Conversations” is a great piece to observe how Karsenti grows and evolves; one can find elements merging together, creating bigger structures and multiple conversational lines. “Looking Back”, although uncertain if related to the composer’s relocation, evokes an American (-minimalistic) flavour — later confirmed in the interview that Karsenti gave to yours truly. Historically, Karsenti’s music is very Asian meets French, and through this work there seems to be a new quality — and an enjoyable one too! “Aubade” is a morning love song and beautiful imagery for finishing a set of nocturnes.
Mathieu Karsenti has been the composer that I have written about the most. And through these many writings I have learned to understand the artist, his approach and his evolution towards creating music. I have found that there is always a common thread — whether that is voluntary or not — in the composer’s work. A gradual evolution which allows the listener to follow Karsenti’s projects while maintaining a comprehension of the direction, and observing a still-life of where the composer is at that particular instant in time. If I feel slowly biased towards my appreciation of Karsenti; one can only benefit from discovering such an interesting, yet beautiful approach to music. Karsenti is not interested in commercial success, but rather driven by the artistic thirst, and this is what makes his music so original and powerful.