Orchestre National de Montpellier
Recorded in September 2002 in the Corum Hall, Montpellier, France
CD No: NAÏVE MO 782153 Duration: Reviewed: October 2003
Pascal Dusapin Concertos (Naïve)
Reviewed by Steve Lomas
Although he has had relatively little exposure in Britain outside of the specialist festival circuit, Pascal Dusapin today counts as one of the senior figures in the world of contemporary French music. When he was a featured composer at an Almeida Festival in the 1980s, it was under the banner of an atavistic school of French composers whose figureheads were Varèse and Xenakis and whose unifying stylistic manner was a kind of wild primitivism arrived at by means of sophisticated calculation.
In a trajectory familiar from numerous other composers, Dusapins musical language has subsequently widened to encompass more traditional elements and since the early 1990s he has embarked on a series of concertos of which three are gathered on this outstanding release, the latest of several Dusapin discs from the enterprising Naïve label.
Although the three works inhabit quite distinct soundworlds, they share a common concern for textural transparency in which the tutti is almost never heard. Instead, Dusapins preferred mode of discourse is to have the soloist engage in individual dialogues with single instruments or small instrumental groupings. This can be heard from the very outset in the trombone concerto, Watt (after Samuel Beckett), where the trombone cries like a wounded animal against a spare backdrop of repeated notes and occasional bursts of percussion (a texture suggestive of freeform jazz).
The prevailing tone is combative in a manner that still betrays the influence of Xenakis. The work subsequently takes a surprising turn into a kind of invented folksong initiated by the piccolo, which returns at the end as the trombone descends to the depths of its register and is left alone in the final bars in an image of utmost desolation. Alain Trudel delivers an electrifying performance, which is well served by the vivid recording.
The cello concerto, Celo, is an altogether more elusive beast (the title is Latin for I conceal). The music seems to be hiding great pain underneath a contained surface. The short first movement is sombre and tentative, seeking but failing to find a true articulation. The second movement is a more fully formed statement in which agitated elements are constantly on the verge of bursting through the fabric. The last movement is a painful dirge in which the orchestras rhythmic unisons hover behind the tightly coiled line of the soloist. A strange but powerful work.
In between these two behemoths sits Galim for flute and strings which mines a seam of slow elegiac writing for the strings overlaid with a hyperactive flute part. An oriental modality pervades the entire piece and its tone of rapt but troubled stillness is quite mesmerising. Harry Halbreichs characteristically fulsome sleeve note is surely right in describing Galim as a perfect miniature. The solo part is exquisitely taken by Juliette Hurel.
Performances are uniformly excellent under the precise but supple direction of Pascal Rophé. The recorded sound under the aegis is superb. As a recent convert to DVD-A and SACD I can only regret that the disc is released just in conventional CD format. A multichannel recording would have added greatly to the immediacy and drama of the music. At a running time of less than 50 minutes I could also have stood another Dusapin concerto. All the same, anyone interested in the music of our time shouldnt hesitate in acquainting themselves with these compelling works.