Dutilleux Symph 2 Plasson EMI CDC5571432

Déjà Review: this review was first published in March 2002 and the recording is still available.

Henri Dutilleux (1916-2013)
Métaboles (1964) ¹
The Shadows of Time – Five Episodes for Orchestra with Children’s Voices (1997) ²
Symphony No 2, ‘Le Double’ (1959) ³
Timothée Collardot ² , Aude Guirai ² , Sarah Lecolle ² (children’s voices); Toulouse Capitole Orchestra/Michel Plasson
rec. 2001 ¹ ² & 1998 ³ , Halle-aux-Grains, Toulouse. DDD
EMI Classics CDC5 57143-2 [71]

This is a major release which only serves to reiterate the stature of Henri Dutilleux. The credit is to be shared between the Toulouse orchestra, who play with tremendous commitment, and the French recording team, who provide such a clear recording of believable perspectives and large dynamic range. Much care, not to mention gritty determination, has gone into the preparation for this disc. Only the rather clumsy English translation of Myriam Soumagnac’s notes could potentially put anybody off this issue. Indeed, these are performances to return to time and time again: the more one listens, the more there is to discover.

Dutilleux, in his handling of the orchestra, is essentially a French colourist. The parallel instrumental lines of ‘Incantatoire’ (the first of Métabole’s five movements) point to Messiaen, but there is a distinctly Stravinskian flavour there also. Intriguingly, in a short preface to this recording by the composer himself, Dutilleux refers to the ‘steel blue’ of the woodwind section of the original dedicatees, the Cleveland Orchestra: clearly both Messiaen and Dutilleux share colour-sensitivities that consistently enrich their tonal palette. Debussy unsurprisingly is present also (try the shifting instrumentation and glissando strings of ‘Vagues de lumière’ from The Shadows of Time).

Métaboles of 1964 is a major, kaleidoscopic achievement, taking in a wide variety of emotions from the delicate, shady opening of the fourth movement (‘Torpide’) to the sheer demands on the concentration of the third (‘Obsessionel’). The jazzy rhythmic undercurrent of ‘Obsessionel’ is more fully exposed in the final movement, marked ‘Flamboyant’. This it certainly is, positively bursting at the seams with vitality.

Alternative versions of Métaboles exist primarily from Yan-Pascal Tortelier (Chandos CHAN9565), Rostropovich on Erato and Chung on DG with the Paris Bastille Orchestra, where the piece makes an intriguing coupling with Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique (DG 445 878-2).

The Second Symphony was written to celebrate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and was premiered by that orchestra under Charles Munch in December 1959. Perhaps what impresses most about Dutilleux’s writing is that no matter how complex it gets (and the final movement certainly has its challenges), the musical logic is always clear and followable. Credit should also go to Plasson’s deep understanding of Dutilleux’s voice and aesthetic in this respect. Only the Hollywood-like opening of the final movement surprises. The later return to Stravinskian sonorities comes as something of a relief; the hypnotic close is fully satisfying.

The Shadows of Time represents a shift to 1997. Debussy again hovers over the first movement, Les Heures (now with a Lutoslawskian flavour, though: Chain I seems to be in the background somewhere). But the whole is essentially from Dutilleux himself. The concept of time exerts an eternal fascination for artists, and Dutilleux is no exception. His ruminations on this theme (the subtitle is ‘Five Episodes for Orchestra with Children’s Voices’) do indeed seem to represent some of his finest music, the three child soloists appearing as voices of innocence in an eternally complex whole.

Dutilleux’s music can be fascinatingly gestural, but always this facet is held under a firm structural umbrella. The fine cohesive forces and undeniable emotive power of these pieces should surely serve to guarantee them a lasting place in the repertoire.

Colin Clarke

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