Jarrell Orchestral Works BIS

Michael Jarrell (b. 1958)
Paysages avec figures absentes – Nachlese IV (2009)
Sechs Augenblicke (2022)
…Un long fracas somptueux de rapide céleste… (1998)
Ilya Gringolts (violin, Paysages)
Florent Jodelet (percussion, Un long fracas…)
Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire/Pascal Rophé
rec. 2022, Centre des Congrès, Angers, France
BIS BIS-2672 SACD  [54]

Michael Jarrell has a number concertos under his belt. He seems to have a particular interest in writing for violin and orchestra. The first work on this programme was preceded by …prisme-incidences… from 1998 (on Aoen – review). He proceeded to composed three more: …aussi peu que les nuages… from 2015 (written for the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels), Des nuages et des brouillards from 2016, and 4 Eindrücke from 2019 (on BIS – review).

Let me quote Jarrell’s comments on Paysages avec figures absentes (written for Isabelle Faust and dedicated to her). He “wanted to approach writing for violin and ensemble in a different way and not reproduce the same relationship as in …prisme-incidences… […] here it’s more a question of a kind of antiphony”. But, as in …prisme-incidences…, the work’s beginning is somewhat hesitant, with isolated figures apparently going nowhere. The solo part soon asserts itself, and the music becomes more animated and goal-oriented. All the while, the tension increases considerably, briefly relieved by calmer episodes, and sometimes moves into mysterious soundscapes of great beauty. Then it reasserts itself in a frantic section, possibly the work’s climax, abruptly cut short. The music softly unwinds into thin air over the violin’s soft repeated notes.

What is one to make of the title? The composer explains that he “refused to develop all the figures generated by the solo violin with as a result the impression of figures being absent”. This may be useful but it does not add to one’s appreciation of this compact, beautifully written and imaginative piece that clearly deserves wider exposure. Ilya Gringolts plays superbly, with impeccable technique and musicality.

The title Sechs Augenblicke (six moments) speaks for itself. The piece, composed during the lockdown, consists of six short movements which suggest varied moods. One might compare this with Prokofiev’s Visions fugitives or Copland’s Statements. Each moment has its own sound character. The first moment is characterised by what might be described as a tolling bell. It is followed by some sort of bleak funeral march. The central sections are both shorter, and the music is, so to speak, reduced – or perhaps concentrated – to its bare, vital minimum. Even so, each of them has its own musical colour: the third moment is woodwind-dominated, the fourth is mostly for brass and percussion. The fifth moment is slow and mysterious. The sixth is a toccata-like finale in all but name, although the music eventually tiptoes away lightly. Jarrell has a real flair for orchestral sound, again much in evidence in this gripping and inventive score. It would become popular were it heard more often.

Jarrell notes the basic idea for the beginning of …Un long fracas somptueux de rapide céleste…, his percussion concerto: start with a short, powerful explosion, some sort of big bang later reappearing throughout the work as a kind of punctuation. The music exploits a large array of percussion instruments, taxing the soloist’s technique and ability to the utmost. The solo part is a formidable display of writing for tuned and untuned instruments, but with no attempt at mere show-off. The music unfolds by going through strikingly varied music landscapes, some violent, some calmer but by no means appeased.

The title of the piece seems to have come later, as the composer received an extract from a Un balcon en forêt, a book by Julien Gracq describing the start of the battle on the Meuse. Jarrell was “immediately struck by the surrealist author’s description of the thunder of guns: a long, sumptuous thunder of celestial rapidity”. Appropriately enough, the music alternates thunderous episodes and searingly beautiful slower sections. At the end, it dissolves in a last rumble in the orchestra’s bass register. A quite impressive work, it once again demonstrates Jarrell’s orchestral mastery. One cannot but admire Florent Jodelet’s remarkable commitment and superb technique in what is obviously a most taxing and demanding, though enormously rewarding, work. This is a real cause to rejoice. There are not that many successful percussion concertos around, so this is to be unreservedly welcomed.

Michael Jarrell is an important composer with a large and varied output, a composer with a vision who knows what to say and how to say it best. In this, he is wonderfully served by performers such as those here. Pascal Rophé has repeatedly confirmed his sympathy for and empathy with Jarrell’s music. Orchestre national des Pays de la Loire play superbly, as they did for the composer on the BIS release. This is a splendid disc on all counts, and a must for Jarrell followers, but I am sure others will find much to admire.

Hubert Culot

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