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Nicolas BACRI (b.1961)
Pièces pour Clarinet: Divertimento for clarinet, violin, viola and cello Op. 37b (1991-92) [12.20]; Concerto da Camera for clarinet and string orchestra Op. 61 (1999) [21.56]; Mondorf Sonatina No. 2 for clarinet Op. 58 (1997) [4.52]; Im Volkston for clarinet, violin and cell Op. 43 (1994) [12.49]; Night Music for clarinet and cello Op. 73 (2001) [8.03]; Deux petites rapsodies for clarinet Op. 21b (1979) [5.23]
Florent Héau (clarinet)
David Lefèvre (violin)
Cyrille Mercier (viola)
Thierry Amadi (cello)
European Camerata/Laurent Quénelle
rec. l'Eglise réformée d'Auteuil Paris XVI, 2-6, 27-29 Jan 2003. DDD

Nicolas Bacri is one of those living composers who offer hope for the future. Others include Arnold Rosner, Lionel Sainsbury, Ronald Stevenson, Ian Venables, Loris Tjeknavorian, Avet Terteryan and Ghiya Kancheli not that any of them sound like each other. Each however breathes a sincerity that communicates with today's audiences - no ivory tower self-gratification here.

Bacri, a Parisian, strikes out in quite different directions from those dictated from IRCAM or by Boulez (though the composer himself claims affinity here) or Messiaen or Reich or Adams. His absorption and language is in the grave melodic tendency rooted in Bach-Finzi territory. He has not lacked for recordings either and a number of his discs have already been reviewed here.

In the case of this disc the melodic strand is strong and finds a natural complement in Florent Héau's clarinet which forms the axle for this CD. Bacri's Op.37b Divertimento is not at all the cassation you might have expected from the title. In fact if he had called it a sonata no-one would have blinked. Its gravity and serious intent is never in doubt. After a bustling first movement in which Bernstein meets Tippett meets Copland comes a sweetly and quietly intoned Canto lontano - the essence of one chapter of the Bacri language. Even the finale, which resumes the cut and thrust of the first movement, cannot resist the lissom modest singing and ends in introspection. The four movement Concerto has the riptide virtuosity of the Stravinsky Ebony Concerto in the first two movements even if the long first movement ends in another of those Bacri invocations to beauty. This is a theme resumed in the Adagio espressivo which has the spirituality of the late Beethoven quartets. I wondered if it should have gone slower than it is taken here. Unusually the last movement is the longest of the four containing a chilly arioso and the accustomed technical flamboyance. Why Mondorf for the Sonata: because it was written in that Luxembourg spa town of that name. Im Volkston is a series of seven miniature tableaux none of which outstays its welcome and all of which are written in a deliberately populist style recalling Bernstein, Prokofiev, Britten (tr.12). Dance, sometimes of a macabre stamp, plays a major part in these miniatures. Ideal relaxing fare in a concert of more emotionally demanding works. Night Music glumly muses with suggestions of inimical fate woven in. The same can be said of the bleak landscapes of the two Rhapsodies. Once again there is a chill in this music and less of the lyrical tendency noted in the outstanding Divertimento and Concerto.

One can only hope for recordings of his four string quartets: two early (1980, 1982) and two late (1995 onwards). The Symphony No. 1 and First Violin Concerto are also from the early post-serial phase. Since then there have been a Cello Concerto (1985-87), Symphony No. 2 (1986-90), four more symphonies and ten concertante works. His Sixth Symphony was in the finals of the international competition ‘Masterprize 2003’. It was played by London Symphony Orchestra/Harding last November at the Barbican in London. On the present showing all of these works should be worth hearing. If they attain the heights of imaginative writing achieved in the modestly titled Divertimento we should be in for some revelations.

I should add that there is another disc of Bacri clarinet music in which the Divertimento No. 2, Adams Dances; Im Volkston; Divertimento Op. 43 and Concerto da Camera appear alongside substantial works by Guillaume Connesson and Anthony Girard. There the clarinettist is Philippe Cuper. This collection entitled The Paris Connection is on Clarinet Classics CC0043. I shall be reviewing that disc in due course.

Rob Barnett

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