The Wigmore Hall was packed – and with good cause. Henri Dutilleux (1916-2013) was, one might say, a musician’s composer. The evening’s programme note aptly declares: “He was a rare example of a composer who became not only wiser but also more progressive.”
The works played here were all composed during his sixth decade. They need careful listening, and the rewards are considerable. Trois Strophes sur the nom de Sacher is for cello; Trois Préludes is for piano; and Ainsi la nuit is for string quartet.
The most striking feature of this collection of pieces is Dutilleux’s thoughtful probing of the capacity and possibilities of the instruments concerned. What one hears are arresting displays of unexpected, adventurous sounds – fragments of melody, seductive moments, and simplicities; and also extraordinary complex demands upon the performers’ virtuosity, and the music has very carefully thought-out form.
Dutilleux regarded Debussy and Ravel as among his strongest influences. Erik Satie may warrant recognition, too. The first half ended with Ravel’s Piano Trio, written two years before Dutilleux’s birth. This performance of it was immaculate – distanced but not remote, peaceable yet with interruptions of sudden violence, and with a beauty that was somewhat self-conscious yet reserved. The slow movement was ravishing. Lisa Batiashvili, Gautier Capuçon and Frank Braley played as one.
The Violin Sonata (1917) was the seriously-ill Debussy’s final completed composition. It is something of a stranger to his earlier works, perhaps otherworldly in style. Batiashvili responded, playing her considerable part with a light, vital and dignified restraint – a suitable companion to Dutilleux’s Ainsi la nuit, which followed – a string quartet that is nocturnal yet bracing ... recalling Bartók’s ‘night music’ and astringent rhythms.
This was a distinguished concert, rapturously received.