Classical CD Reviews

HENRI DUTILLEUX, “Orchestral Works II” = Symphony No.1; Tout un monde lointain; Timbres, Espace, Mouvement ou “La Nuit Etoilee” – Bordeaux Aquitaine Nat. Orch./Hans Graf – Arte Nova

Great introduction to this fascinating composer.

Published on December 26, 2012

HENRI DUTILLEUX, “Orchestral Works II” = Symphony No.1; Tout un monde lointain; Timbres, Espace, Mouvement ou “La Nuit Etoilee” – Bordeaux Aquitaine Nat. Orch./Hans Graf – Arte Nova

HENRI DUTILLEUX, “Orchestral Works II” = Symphony No.1; Tout un monde lointain; Timbres, Espace, Mouvement ou “La Nuit Etoilee” – Bordeaux Aquitaine National Orch./Hans Graf – Arte Nova Classics ANO 928130 (Distr. by Allegro), [9/11/12] 79:40 ****:

Henri Dutilleux is one of Europe’s most interesting figures over the last eighty years and certainly one of France’s most talented and prolific composers, to be thought of in the same way as Messiaen. And, yet, except for some performances here and there, audiences in America are not nearly as aware of his music as we should be. I had the good fortune to hear his Metaboles in Chicago some years ago and was quite impressed. This disc offers an excellent way to get to know more from this fascinating composer.

The Symphony No. 1, from 1950, captures the attention immediately from its bold opening Passacaille (passacaglia). There are thirty-five variations on a somewhat dark and compelling theme illustrating Dutilleux’s mastery of orchestration and mood. The Scherzo is a very propulsive and exciting treatment of the main motive from the opening. The subsequent Intermezzo is interesting in its light, almost Classical character in contrast to some of the earlier material and the Finale is both unusual and exciting in its use of variations similar to the Passacaille, but on a theme introduced in the Intermezzo. This is a dramatic and exciting work and should be thought of as one of the better symphonies written in the mid-twentieth century.

Tout un monde lointain (“A whole world far away”) takes its title and inspiration from Baudelaire. The composer was going to write a ballet after themes in some of the poet’s work but the resultant concerto for cello and orchestra is what emerged. Essentially a set of variations for cello and orchestra based on five verses from Baudelaire’s Les fleurs du mal, they are Enigme, Regard, Houles, Miroirs and Hymne. This is a very fine work and each movement treats pre-existing material in very creative ways. The work as a whole is lovely and somewhat impressionistic in its feel. Soloist Jean-Guihen Queyras plays beautifully throughout.

Timbres, Espace, Mouvement ou “La Nuit Etoilee” (after the painting by Van Gogh) is actually one of Dutilleux’s best known works in the United States. Written in 1978 for the National Symphony and its music director, Mstislav Rostropovich, the work was also composed in memory of the conductor Charles Munch. The composer did not write the work to “depict” the images in the Van Gogh “A Starry Night” but rather to capture the mood of the painting. Accordingly, the Espace refers to the painting’s “special” quality, Timbres to its colorfulness and Mouvement to the well-known swirling nature of Van Gogh’s sky. This is a very picturesque work and remains (along with Metaboles, I think) one of Dutilleux’s best and most well-known works.

This is a very good collection of works that provides an excellent introduction to Dutilleux’s music. I will go seek out the first volume to be sure. Another reason to enjoy this recording is the wonderful playing of the Bordeaux Aquitaine orchestra. Aside from the beauty of the seacoast, they apparently have a very fine orchestra and kudos to their conductor Hans Graf for his interpretations of these masterworks.

—Daniel Coombs




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