Dutilleux – Symphony No.1; Deux Sonnets de Jean Cassou; Métaboles
Paul Armin Edelmann; Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz; Karl-Heinz Steffens
Capriccio C5242

Dutilleux – Métaboles; L’arbre des songes; Symphony No.2 «Le double»
Augustin Hadelich; Seattle Symphony; Ludovic Morlot
Seattle Symphony SSM1007

Dutilleux – Tout un monde lointain
Emmanuelle Bertrand; Pascal Amoyel; Luzerner Sinfonieorchester; James Gaffigan
harmonia mundi HMC 902209

Last month was French composer Henri Dutilleux’s centennial, and commemorative recordings of his meticulously crafted works began appearing in the middle of last year. Despite the premature arrival of these particular discs, however, a reappraisal of his music has long been overdue. A relatively small oeuvre, combined with a high-placed enemy in the form of a young Pierre Boulez, worked to consign Dutilleux to relative obscurity for nearly all but the last two decades of his 97-year life.

What’s more, the music which he did permit, after years of revision, to pass through the pinpoint mesh of his self-criticism never had pretensions of epoch-making in the first place. There is no avant-garde formalistic demagoguery, no school of thought behind his work (though the long shadows of Ravel and Berg loom). Instead, Dutilleux commandeers entire orchestras, as Proust commandeered thousands and thousands of pages, to convey nothing more than a deeply personal – though phantasmagorical – inner world.

Comparisons to artists in other mediums always abound when one speaks of Dutilleux, likely because he makes no secret of his debts to the Belle Époque; he has also cited Baudelaire and Van Gogh as inspirations. And yet his music is rarely programmatic, or even narrativistic. If anything, it is architectural; his pieces often feel like they occupy considerable space, like musical edifices composed of forces held in perfect equilibrium.


01a Dutillieux Symphony 1His first major work to embody this panoramic style is his most performed. Written in 1964 for the Cleveland Orchestra, Métaboles is a précis of Dutilleux’s work. Tired with the thesis-antithesis of theme A versus theme B, Dutilleux looked to nature in search of a more malleable symphonic form. There he saw that, given enough transformations, evolution could bridge unimaginable gaps between organisms (as that between, say, a primordial bacteria and a human being). Adapting this model to Métaboles, he steadily modifies his thematic material until it becomes unrecognizable – yet still inextricably linked through a kind of musical metabolism to the material which germinated it.

01b Dutillieux MetabolesTwo fine recordings of this piece appeared last year. The first, recorded by Karl-Heinz Steffens and the Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz, is expansive, smoothing the kaleidoscope turn of Métaboles’ transformations. The next, recorded by Ludovic Morlot with the Seattle Symphony, is notable for its excellent mastering, which enhances the work’s already galactic compass. Taken together, these CDs present a kind of “métaboles” of Dutilleux’ entire career: the Rheinland-Pfalz disc contains his early works, including a rare vocal setting, while the Seattle recording features a brilliant performance of Dutilleux’s late violin concerto by Augustin Hadelich (entitled L’arbre des songes, it too draws inspiration from nature and has structural similarities with Métaboles).

01c Dutillieux CelloFilling in the gaps is Emmanuelle Bertrand’s performance of the Baudelaire-inspired cello concerto, “Tout un monde lointain…” with the Luzerner Sinfonieorchester. The concerto is worth the price of admission alone – it is perhaps his greatest work, ably performed here – but the CD also includes some historical context with a recording of Debussy’s cello sonata. Sensibly enough, for though Dutilleux was scorned by the Paris establishment, he was one of its rightful heirs. The recordings appearing now on this important anniversary are the definitive proof.


For a list of writings by this author, click the name above
More from this author:

02 Poulenc concertosPoulenc – Piano Concertos; Aubade
Louis Lortie; Hélène Mercier; BBC Philharmonic; Edward Gardner
Chandos CHAN 10875

This sparkling CD includes Francis Poulenc’s works for piano and orchestra plus music for two pianists. I’ve loved Poulenc’s cheeky brews of popular and classical elements since a lighthearted teenage attempt at his Sextet for Piano and Winds, when we had a mock waiter serve drinks during my first piano solo! Compositionally, Poulenc invites us to loosen up and accept new things, but performance is not easy. In the Concerto (1949) Lortie’s ensemble with orchestra is precise without compromising rhythmic life, and he dashes off the first movement’s lounge-piano flourishes without belabouring them. Originally written for a ballet, Aubade (1929) is quintessential Poulenc. It is evocative of 1920s Paris, for piano with an orchestra stripped down to 18 instruments emphasizing winds and brass. Lortie plays the opening toccata with its challenging repeated chords immaculately, and manages the juxtaposed contrasting phrases well. The BBC Philharmonic’s winds shine in wonderfully bittersweet double-reed instrument passages and in several fine clarinet solos.

Lortie’s long-time duo-piano partner Hélène Mercier joins him in the two-piano Concerto in D Minor. They play the opening movement’s quasi-Balinese passages seamlessly. The Larghetto’s classical nostalgia and more modern sentiments come through effectively. In the dissonant final movement, double notes are crisp and chords balanced. Works for two pianists alone close the disc; in Poulenc’s four-hand Sonata and two short duo-piano pieces, Mercier and Lortie find opportunities for free dialogue and joyous music-making.

03 Leo Brouwer

Leo Brouwer – Music for Bandurria and Guitar
Pedro Chamorro; Pedro Mateo González
Naxos 8.573363


Cuban composer Leo Brouwer (b.1939) is an astonishing sound creator in this new release featuring music for bandurria and guitar. Brower’s masterful use of music of divergent musical styles like Cuban rhythms, changing metres, contemporary new music atonal references, simple folk music and South American references from other composers are, when combined and layered, surprisingly atheistically pleasing and challenging, yet never jolting.

Performers Pedro Mateo González on guitar and Pedro Chamorro on bandurria (a popular South American small lute dating from the 16th century) are stars both as soloists and as a duo. There is so much respect for the composer in their spirited performances. González is especially outstanding in capturing both the soul-wrenching slow lyricism in Variation 3, and the toe-tapping energetic and contrasting slower emotions in Variation 7 of Variaciones sobre un tema de Víctor Jara, a work drawn from Chilean musician/activist Victor Jara’s popular song Lo unico que tengo. Likewise, Chamorro easily conquers the fiery rapid lines and contrasting rhythms in both his solo performances which include a world premiere recording of Sonata para Bandurria. The 1957 duet Micropiezas para Bandurria y Guitarra is dedicated to Darius Milhaud. A theme and variation of the French children’s song Frère Jacques, Brouwer creates an unmatched spellbinding piece for the two musicians to shine in subtlety and simplicity.

Kudos too to the fine, clear work of the producers, Canadians Norbert Kraft and Bonnie Silver. This is beautiful music played beautifully.

05 Emily Doolittleall spring – Chamber Music of Emily Doolittle
Seattle Chamber Players and friends
Composers Concordance Records comcon0025 (emilydoolittle.com)

Behind Canadian composer Emily Doolittle’s music lies a passion for the relationship between music and nature, and specifically, bird and animal songs. Her recent album of chamber music, all spring, is a superb example of how she navigates this fundamental connection that has inspired generations of composers. This interest has led her to conduct research into birdsong and explore the aesthetics of whether animal songs can be considered music. As our world faces critical environmental choices, the question of how we relate to the forces of nature and all beings who live here is increasingly becoming a focus for many composers. How these concerns translate into music for acoustic instruments was uppermost in my awareness as I listened to Doolittle’s CD.

Her approach is to offer a distillation of the qualities of natural phenomena or personal experiences. In four pieces about water essential qualities of water are revealed, whereas in all spring the focus is on the characteristics of specific birds. Some of the ways Doolittle herself engages with nature – listening and hiking – are highlighted in her pieces falling still and col. The choices Doolittle makes to bring the listener into closer connection with nature works at subtle levels. It is less about recreating a sense of place or imitation of the soundscape, but rather creating a sonic experience to guide the listener into connection with the deeper layers of natural phenomena, an entry into the heart of nature.

For a list of writings by this author, click the name above
More from this author:

10 Sally BeamishSally Beamish – The Singing
James Crabb; Håkan Hardenberger; Branford Marsalis; Royal Scottish Orchestra; National Youth Orchestra of Scotland; Martyn Brabbins
BIS 2156

British composer Sally Beamish has called Scotland home since 1990, and describes her love of Scottish traditional music, landscape and history along with an interest in jazz as her inspirations. There are many, many styles and traditions that Beamish draws upon in her compositions, making this release of her works written between 2003 and 2012 intriguing, accessible and exciting listening.

Accordionist James Crabb is spectacular in the concerto The Singing. From long mournful singing lines, bagpipe imitations and breathing bellows and winds, the accordion and orchestra create lush soundscapes. Saxophonist Branford Marsalis is equally lyrical and moving in Under the Wing of the Rock, a piece originally scored for solo viola and strings and inspired by Celtic song and psalms. It’s back to downtown city living in the exciting Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra featuring soloist Håkan Hardenberger. The use of parts of scrapped cars and scaffolding pipes in the percussion section against the wailing trumpet in the third movement creates a dramatic edgy, hard sound. Reckless for chamber orchestra is witty and light while the orchestra emulates atmospheric washes of land and sea in A Cage of Doves. Conducted by Martyn Brabbins, both the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland, on the trumpet concerto, play with energetic precision and flair.

Beamish’s love and respect for her inspirations resonate throughout these intelligent works. Perfect music to warm up a cold winter’s day!

08 Bill AlvesBill Alves – Mystic Canyon; Music for Violin and Gamelan
Susan Jensen; HMC American Gamelan
MicroFest Records MF4

East-West crossover combining gamelan and Western orchestral instruments is, of course, nothing new, and composer Bill Alves continues in the tradition established by the late American composer, Lou Harrison, who wrote more than 50 compositions in this genre. Like Harrison, Alves has composed many musical works for gamelan – specifically his “American gamelan,” the Harvey Mudd College American Gamelan (HMC), an ensemble of Javanese instruments whose tunings have been modified according to just intonation, and which is dedicated to performing new music rather than traditional gamelan repertoire. This CD showcases two such compositions for violin and gamelan: Mystic Canyon and Concerto for Violin and Gamelan.

This music is mesmerizing and quite beautiful. Susan Jensen’s superb violin playing, with its rich and languorous musical lines, overlays the soft, delicate and glimmering sounds of the bronze gamelan instruments. They provide a range of mellifluous musical patterns with their polyrhythms, sometimes static, and at other times gently shifting. The ambience of Mystic Canyon is ethereal and diaphanous, with contrasting sections where the violin is prominent, followed by occasional breaks with just gamelan, all fading away gently at the end of the piece. The six movements of the concerto display a variety of moods and techniques ranging from energetic and percussive, to changing textures and gentle interlocking rhythms, to more inert ostinati backing the violin’s soaring melodies. This is music that will appeal to gamelan and non-gamelan specialists alike.

For a list of writings by this author, click the name above
More from this author:

Back to top