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Hugues DUFOURT (b. 1943)
Le Cyprès blanc (2004)a [33:11]
Surgir (1984) [27:56]
Gérard Caussé (viola)a
Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg/Pierre-André Valade
rec. Conservatoire, Luxembourg, September 2004 (Le Cyprès blanc) ; Philharmonie, Luxembourg, June 2006 (Surgir)
TIMPANI 1C1112 [61:01] 
Experience Classicsonline

A few years ago I reviewed a very fine recording of Dufourt’s beautiful cycle Les Hivers (Aeon AECD 0209). In order not to repeat myself I had best refer readers to that review for general information about Hugues Dufourt’s career and achievement as well as his music.

This recent release from Timpani, one of the most adventurous present-day labels, presents two substantial and sizeable scores written some twenty years apart. It allows a fair appreciation of Dufourt’s musical progress both in its diversity and in its remarkable formal and intellectual coherence.

The earliest work here, Surgir, is scored for large orchestra and might be considered a concerto for orchestra exploring the many expressive facets offered by the modern symphonic orchestra. The first twelve minutes or so of this imposing score are marked by an increase in intensity from the subdued, ominous opening onwards moving into a more animated, rhythmically intricate section. There follows a long slow central section exploring a wide range of instrumental combinations and thus creating a fascinating sound-world. This section is never really static, for – as in much else in Dufourt’s music – there is considerable activity under a deceptively static surface. The music eventually lives up to the title in the final ebullient, almost violent section. This is then abruptly cut short by a nervous, exasperated gesture.

Composed twenty years later, Le Cyprès blanc is a monumental piece for viola and large orchestra, although not a real concerto, but rather a Sonata da chiesa, as the present annotator suggests. Le Cyprès blanc (“The White Cypress”) is, so we are told, “an image found in some Orphic texts dating from the 7th century BC … that of a tree of light, which shows the dying soul how to escape from the world to reach the hereafter”. As so much else in Dufourt’s output, the poetic idea suggested either by a text or an image never gives way to the descriptive or the programmatic. As I mentioned in my earlier review of Les Hivers, the music remains essentially abstract. This does not mean that expression and communication are completely obliterated. Indeed, for all its complexity, the music retains a remarkable expressive strength, not least in this gripping and often quite beautiful work. Le Cyprès blanc is on a fairly long time-span, and the music unfolds slowly but with considerable inner logic. The work opens with a long orchestral introduction starting from the depths of the orchestra and on the verge of inaudibility; but the music soon asserts itself calmly but not without ominous undertones, paving the way for the first entry of the soloist - at some 8 minutes into the work. The soloist will then be continuously present until the end, when the music will fade away into nothingness whence it came. In the meantime, however, the music will be packed with incident. Thus, the at first somewhat hesitant soloist soon asserts himself with a growing agitation that is eventually released in a forceful quick section that the composer describes as “a tormented sea episode” unfolding in mighty crushing waves. There follows a long slower episode consisting of several songs of farewell, a series of serene cantabiles that the composer describes as “an unending peroration” that is nevertheless punctuated by some uneasy gestures. After a short-lived but imposing climax, the music slowly dissolves away, thus bringing the piece to its rounded conclusion. What is most remarkable in this magnificent work is Dufourt’s ability to work in long time-spans with unflagging logic and a refinement of orchestral palette that never obscures the soloist. Le Cyprès blanc is one of the most beautiful and gripping recent works that I have heard.

This is a truly magnificent release, of the kind we have all come to expect from Timpani and from the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg, a now indispensable body as far as contemporary music is concerned. Gérard Caussé plays beautifully throughout with impeccable technique and supreme musicality, while Valade conducts vital and assured readings of these often exacting scores. Full marks to all concerned.

Hubert Culot


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