The Shadows of Time
Symphony No.2, Le Double
Orchestre de Capitole de Toulouse conducted by Michel Plasson
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: March 2002
CD No: EMI CDC 5 57143 2
Henri Dutilleux (born 1916) indicates his French nationality through his light and mercurial textures. His music is harmonically based and expressed through the most fastidious colours. Dutilleux is a perfectionist, someone who crafts every note and sound. Although Dutilleux has great concern for every detail heard – the CD’s cover is a succinct illustration of this – such perfectionism does not prevent his music being emotional, vibrant and communicative.
All the music here was written for great American orchestras. Metaboles (1964), for George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra, is a set of studies ranging from the deeply beautiful ’Lineaire’ (for strings) to more dynamic and rhythmic movements that are energetic and scored brilliantly with much subtlety and incident.
Symphony No.2, ’Le Double’, composed for the Boston Symphony and Charles Munch in 1959, is a three-movement, 30-minute piece cast as a classical symphony of motivic transformation. A novel part of its scoring is a small group of players that forms a separate ensemble, which sits in front of the full orchestra, of string quartet, oboe, B flat clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, harpsichord, celesta and timpani. This distinction between an instrumental troupe and full orchestra is not that of the ’concerto grosso’, rather it allows material-interplay between the two groups; hence the symphony’s sub-title. It’s an absorbing work of contrasts and variegation. The slow movement is of hypnotic stillness, while the syncopated finale seems to suggest Dutilleux’s love of swing bands.
The Shadows of Time (1997) is also for the Boston Symphony, this time Seiji Ozawa. Time-conscious and humanitarian in its digest, Dutilleux remembers Anne Frank and those who perished at Hiroshima, a wood-block measuring time passing. It’s a troubled score in search of consolation. Dutilleux asks “Why?” and includes children’s voices in his tapestry of resonance.
All these performances are of the highest quality – vital, accurate and committed. The characteristically French instrumental timbres that the Toulouse Orchestra has thankfully retained are attractive in themselves; for all the transatlantic impulse of the music, the French musicians’ soundworld is apposite to Dutilleux’s invention.
The recording is superb, the acoustic of Halle-aux-Grains sympathetic to the quietest or fullest sounds. The orchestra is positioned exactly in a discernible space. Balance between sections is excellent with plenty of impact, instrumental clarity and tonal distinctiveness – double basses, for example, veiled or growling, or rasping trombones and skirling piccolo. The placing of the soloists in ’Le Double’ allows the interchange of material to be as lucid as possible. Dynamic shifts are dramatic, the focus and impact of tuttis is as exciting as the music itself.
Michel Plasson has meticulously prepared his Orchestra. That the composer was present at the sessions (in 1998, Symphony, and 2001) only adds to the sense of occasion that this CD documents and relays.