Paris-based composer, writer and pianist Denis Levaillant’s works in many genres defy classification in his unique colours, instrumentation and stylistic explorations. This 2CD release in its colourful bilingual hardcover liner book features works composed from 1987 to 2021.
CD1 opens with Un mystérieux chemin (2017) for solo viola, inspired by music of northern India. It is a dramatic rhythmic piece opening with a slow tense, emotional moving melody with high to low held-notes, performed perfectly by Pierre Lénert. Quatuor Amôn and accordionist Olivier Innocenti perform L’Andalouse Books 1 and 2 (2004). The accordion blends well with the strings. Opening Book 1 Movement1 has accordion, then strings in a noisy, low-pitched atonal start with alternating high and low held notes. A moody work with expressive melody, accented rhythms and high-pitched accordion notes and lower strings. Book 2 Movement 1 starts with a single melodic accordion line leading to full ensemble playing. Uplifting, lively syncopated sections with a sudden low section leading to a fast closing. Book 2 Movement 2 shows Levaillant’s understanding of the accordion’s full high-to-low-pitch range in held-note drones, with added strings held notes. A faster rhythmic section leads to more held notes, with syncopated accordion bellows shakes. Accordion solo Danse Nocturne (2019) with very low pitch left hand and contrasting high pitch right hand, is beautiful, challenging bellows control technique to make all sounds enter together. Fast-note flourishes are contrasting. A solo cello, and a string quartet work complete this first disc.
CD2 features two string quartets and two string trios. With its theme and six variations Les Heures défaites String Quartet No.1 (1987), features Quatuor Joachim. Levaillant writes that this was initially conceived as “ballet music.” Theme begins with beautiful tonal cello melody with slight slide, then entry of other strings, both contrapuntal and one lead with accompaniment. Faster tonal Variation 1 has detached and plucked notes, contrapuntal lines and legato melody phrases with detached notes. Variation 5 has higher squeaky notes and lower short melody, an idea that reappears in his future work. Trois derviches String Trio No.2 (2020), recorded by Sébastian Surel, Pierre Lenert and Alexis Descharmes, alternates low and high notes, staccatos, rhythmic unisons and brief silences. One more string quartet and string trio complete CD2.
So fascinating to listen to Levaillant’s compositional development of beautiful, well-composed, virtuosic works over three and a half decades.