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Henri DUTILLEUX (1916-2013)
Sur le même accord (Nocturne for Violin and Orchestra) (2002) [10:17]
Les citations (Diptych for Oboe, Harpsichord, Bass and Percussion) (1985/1991) [13:27]
Mystère de l’instant (1989) [14:57]
Timbres, espace, mouvement (ou “La nuit etoilée”) (1978/1991) [21:36]
Augustin Hadelich (violin) (Nocturne)
Mary Lynch (oboe); Mahan Esfahani (harpsichord); Jordan Anderson (bass); Michael A. Werner (percussion) (Les citations)
Chester Englander (cimbalom) (Mystère)
Seattle Symphony/Ludovic Morlot
rec. S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium, Benaroya Hall, Seattle, Washington, 2015-16

This disc completes Ludovic Morlot and the Seattle Symphony’s Dutilleux series. I found much to like in the previous two volumes (review ~ review) and I do here as well. At the same time that Seattle Symphony Media released this last disc, they have issued a set of all three volumes. For the sake of those who collected the earlier ones it was prudent to issue the third installment separately. For others I would recommend getting the set, though I have not seen it personally.

The programme opens with one of Dutilleux’s late works, the Nocturne Sur le même accord that the composer wrote for Anne-Sophie Mutter. The violinist had requested the piece from Dutilleux in the 1980’s, being impressed by his Cello Concerto, Tout un monde lointain. However, it took the composer a long time before he completed the task - typical of Dutilleux’s painstaking way with composing and turning out relatively few works, but nearly all of them masterpieces. The first performance with Mutter did not take place until April 2002. The attractive single-movement piece is entirely built on a “six-note figure that provides, in ever-changing configurations, both melodic gestures and accompanying harmonies”, as Paul Schiavo describes it in the CD notes. Augustin Hadelich’s performance here is in no way inferior to Mutter’s on her DG recording. The work begins with the violinist playing the six-note figure pizzicato. On this recording the pizzicati are really vivid and present, more so than on Mutter’s account. They are followed by double-stop bowing and the figure is echoed by the winds. Overall, Mutter’s performance is a bit tauter and Hadelich’s slightly broader. Both are very effective, but the Seattle Symphony Media’s stunning sound is a plus as it was for Hadelich’s magisterial account of the Violin Concerto, L’arbre des songes, on the second volume of the series. Both orchestras—the Orchestre National de France under Kurt Masur for Mutter—acquit themselves well. Mutter’s has the frisson of a premiere recording before a live audience.

Les citations is essentially a chamber piece with the unusual scoring of oboe, harpsichord, double bass, and percussion. The work is in two movements, though originally it had a single movement scored for oboe, harpsichord, and percussion. Dutilleux wrote the first movement in 1985 while composer-in-residence at the Aldeburgh music festival. He apparently was dissatisfied with the results and so added a second movement five years later and included a double bass in the instrumentation. The title of the work refers to musical quotations of other composers: from Jehan Alain, a young composer who had died 50 years earlier while fighting in the German invasion of France; the Renaissance composer Clément Janequin; and even Benjamin Britten (from Peter Grimes), though these quotations are far from obvious.

The first movement, ‘For Aldeburgh 85’, begins with a long oboe solo that is derived from the aria “The Great Bear and the Pleiades” from Peter Grimes and continues in its solo role after being joined by the percussion and harpsichord. As Lutosławski used multiphonics in his 1980 Double Concerto for Oboe and Harp, so Dutilleux has his oboist play them in this work—a sign of the times, I think. The second movement, ‘From Janequin to Jehan Alain’, opens with a virtuosic harpsichord solo performed here by no less than Mahan Esfahani before the ensemble moves into realms of Renaissance polyphony and jazz rhythms, the latter with solo parts for the bass and percussion. The piece concludes with another oboe solo, accompanied by the other instrumentalists. I had not heard this piece prior to this recording, but musicians of the calibre of those in this performance apparently relish it, resulting in a fascinating listening experience.

Mystère de l’instant is one of many compositions commissioned and performed by Paul Sacher, the late Swiss conductor and benefactor of a number of famous twentieth-century composers. The work is scored for strings, cimbalom, and percussion and consists of ten short movements or “snapshots,” as Dutilleux called them. The movements are connected and each has an individual character and respective descriptive title, such as ‘Echoes’, ‘Litanies’ and ‘Choral’. The ninth movement, ‘Metamorphoses’, is constructed on a six-note motif spelling Sacher’s name in a combination of German and Italian notation. Sacher’s recording with Collegium Musicum on Erato is definitive and has the advantage of tracking the individual movements, whereas the Seattle Symphony has one track for the whole piece. Otherwise, there is nothing to complain about and much to admire in this new account by Morlot.

The final selection on the CD is one of Dutilleux’s best-known orchestral compositions, Timbres, espace, mouvement, inspired by van Gogh’s painting The Starry Night. As Schiavo notes, “the ecstatic quality of van Gogh’s [painting], in which both trees and sky seem positively animated, had long captivated Dutilleux and suggested to him an array of ravishing orchestral sonorities.” The cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich requested the original version of the piece, which consisted of two movements: ‘Nébuleuse’ and ‘Constellations’. It was performed in this form and Rostropovich recorded it with Orchestre National de France issued on the same disc as Sacher’s account of Mystère de l’instant. Then in 1991 Dutilleux added a brief ‘Interlude’ between these movements. Where the main composition is scored for large orchestra, but with only cellos and basses in the strings, the ‘Interlude’ has only cellos with the celesta adding a bit of color near the end. One must assume that the cello scoring was done to honor Rostropovich. There are a number of recordings of Timbres, espace, mouvement. Rostropovich’s still sounds fine, even if one misses the middle movement. I also like Jukka-Pekka Saraste’s account with the Toronto Symphony (Finlandia), but have to admit that Morlot’s surpasses it in many ways. His conception is broader than Saraste’s and the Seattle Symphony outdoes it in orchestral execution and the sheer sumptuousness of the sound.

Morlot and the Seattle Symphony, thus, have concluded their Dutilleux survey in excellent fashion as expected. If you have the first two volumes, you will surely want to add this one. Otherwise, the three-disc set sounds like a good proposition, though you will miss the attractive artwork on the individual booklet covers.

Leslie Wright



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