Classical CD Reviews

DUTILLEUX: Correspondences for Soprano and Orchestra; “Tout Un Monde Lointain…” for cello and orchestra; Shadows of Time – Barbara Hannigan, sop./ Anssi Karttunen, cello /Orch. Philharmonique de Radio France/Esa-pekka Salonen – DGG

Three masterpieces of the French contemporary composer, Henri Dutilleux, receive superb performances from conductor/composer Esa-pekka Salonen.

Published on March 24, 2013

DUTILLEUX: Correspondences for Soprano and Orchestra; “Tout Un Monde Lointain…” for cello and orchestra; Shadows of Time – Barbara Hannigan, sop./ Anssi Karttunen, cello /Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France/Esa-pekka Salonen – DGG B0017944-02, 67:04 *****:

There are compositional similarities between the conductor/composer Esa-pekka Salonen and the composer Henri Dutilleux (1916) now 97 years young. Both composers are masters of orchestral color and refined poetic expression that has great emotional impact. Their music has a flow and structure that draws the listener in rather than relying on melody or drama for effect. Although Salonen uses more modern techniques, his music is cut from the same cloth.  In the program booklet, he exclaims “Everything Dutilleux has written in the last decades belongs to the category of masterpiece.” Clearly, there’s a strong connection between conductor and composer (who was present at the recording).

Dutilleux started composing at age 13, and studied harmony and counterpoint at the Paris Conservatoire. His cantata, L’anneau du roi won the Prix de Rome in 1938, but the outbreak of World War II terminated the Rome residency. For five years he survived by teaching, playing the piano and arranging night-club music, before joining the French Radio in 1943. Two years later became Head of Music Production, a post he held until 1963. He taught and filled many composer residency positions as his fame and recognition grew.

Dutilleux’s style is an extension of the refined impressionistic textures of Debussy and Ravel, an alternative to the directions into which Pierre Boulez and Olivier Messiaen took French music. Bartok and Stravinsky, of course, influenced his music, but, though atonal, serialism never was his mantra. “What I reject is the dogma and the authoritarianism which manifested themselves in that [serial] period,” he said. His relatively small body of music is due to his work load at the French Radio, and his teaching activities. He also extensively revises his works before they are deemed ready for performance.

This is the first recording of his 2003 work for soprano and voice, Correspondences, originally written for Dawn Upshaw and the Berlin Philharmonic under Simon Rattle. The title refers to Baudelaire’s poem by the same name, when one stimulus produces a secondary response (synaesthesia). Here Dutilleux uses letters between famous people that produces a response in the recipient (and perhaps in the composer).  In one letter, “Dear Galochka and Slava,” Solzhenitsyn thanks Mstislav and Galina Rostropovich for their support during the “horrors in the labor camps ten years before.” Here the strings dramatically express the violence and suffering endured and tenderly conveys the gratitude Solzhenitsyn feels. It’s a sensitive, lyrically expressive and moving work, which Barbara Hannigan sings superbly.

Rostropovich commissioned Dutilleux’s Cello Concerto “Tout un Monde Lointain…” (Whole Distant World) in 1970. Each of its five sections have a description attached, taken from epigraphs of Baudelaire. “Enigma” is a theme and variations that begins mysteriously and builds to a slow sacrificial dance. “Gaze” induces the listener under a spell of ghostly and amorphously beautiful music. “Sea Swells” is a swirling and animated dialogue between the cello and orchestra – especially winds and percussion.  “Mirrors” shimmers and glistens – the cello weaves plaintive melodies punctuated by percussion and pensively reflective violins. “Hymn” is rhythmically robust, summarizing the work as it trails into the mist.  Clearly, this is one of the most important cello concertos of the twentieth century and Anssi Karttunen is an excellent soloist.

The Shadows of Time (1997), commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, was inspired by the 50th anniversary of the Liberation of Paris at the end of World War II. Dutilleux refers to the work’s five sections as ‘allusions to timeless images of distant events whose intensity, in spite of the imprint of time, has never ceased to haunt me.’ In Hours, the rhythmically steady ticking of a clock represents the inexorable passage of time. In the scherzo, Evil Ariel, swirling strings and darting brass portray the evil spirit in Milton’s Paradise Lost. The emotional center of the work, Memory of Shadows, is dedicated to Anne Frank. Salonen chooses three boy voices to implore over and over, “Why us? Why the star?” A calm interlude leads to a luminously colored Waves of Light. A bluesy and sadly nostalgic Blue Dominant ends the work, with a slowly ticking clock fading away. As in many of his works, (Symphony No. 1 and 2 and the Cello Concerto,) Dutilleux likes to end his works quietly, and it’s quite effective in punctuating the subtlety of his oeuvre.

Esa-pekka Salonen and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France deliver superb performances. This disc is an excellent introduction to one of the under-appreciated composers of the Twentieth Century.

—Robert Moon




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