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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 28 - Volume 42 Issue 48
Seattle Symphony Orchestra CD provides a valuable introduction to Henri Dutilleux
Arts & Entertainment
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Seattle Symphony Orchestra CD provides a valuable introduction to Henri Dutilleux

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

SEATTLE SYMPHONY
HENRI DUTILLEUX
CD


If you enjoy hearing intriguing sounds you've never heard before from an orchestra, this is the disc for you. Superbly captured in stunning clarity and impact, this CD of performances of the music of Henri Dutilleux gives us an excellent opportunity to discover a composer of inexhaustible imagination and meticulous skill. The composer spoke the truth when he described a chief characteristic of his music as 'the joy of sound.'

In fact, my fascination with the ever-changing palette of sonorities has so far blocked my ears from getting a handle on what else attracts me so strongly to this music. Beyond the sensual delights of orchestral textures that amaze me, there is form and substance. I can feel it, but I can't pin it down.

Sure, the very first movement on this disc is a passacaglia, one of my favorite musical forms in which a thematic and rhythmic pattern is worked over again and again. And there are scherzos and variations. But none of it follows any formula for more than a moment or two. Change and invention are everywhere, yet there is a sense of the whole. Something holds it all together, giving a sense of satisfaction even when a movement ends 'up in the air' at an apparent nowhere.

This CD of nearly 80 minutes contains three works: 'Symphony No. 1' (1951), 'Tout un monde lointain' (1970), and 'The Shadows of Time' (1997). When you hear the mastery of orchestration in this symphony, you will have trouble believing that this was his first piece for orchestra! It is a fantastical trip through a forest of unexpected sounds, from the very softest to giant crescendos, and from the gentlest gossamer to lightning bolts of piercing brass. There are also bits of wit and playfulness. The tonality is of twentieth century, for sure, but there is none of serialism, minimalism, or other in-vogue programs of the composer's contemporaries. Dutilleux is not like anyone you've ever heard. And his music cries out for multiple hearings. This is, of course, the great virtue of a CD over a live performance. I have indeed found Dutilleux more compelling with each audition.

'Tout un monde lointain' ('A Whole Distant World') is five-movement concerto for cello and orchestra. Aside from the superb accompaniment of the Seattle Symphony under Ludovic Morlot, the shining glory of this recording is the unparalleled beauty of Xavier Phillips' sound. The 43-year-old cellist has simply the most beautiful and cleanest sound of any cellist I have ever heard. (He plays a 1710 Matteo Gofriller cello.) His advocacy of this work is beyond reproach. Transcendent song-full soaring pairs off with passionate and articulate drama to show how Dutilleux was no stranger to everything a cellist can be asked to do. The integration of Phillips' tone with the orchestra is utterly brilliant and compelling.

I find 'The Shadows of Time,' a six-movement work from 1997, the least compelling of the bunch. Perhaps I just need more time with it. Dutilleux was reflecting on the 50th anniversary of the end of WWII. The first movement is an extended (3 minutes, 15 seconds) fanciful fanfare featuring mainly the brass instruments. The third movement is dedicated to the memory of Anne Frank and all the innocent children who suffered. Here Dutilleux employs three boy sopranos who intone in French, 'Why us? Why the star?' I didn't find this as affecting as I would have expected.

Throughout the disc, the dedication of conductor Ludovic Morlot , who knew Dutilleux, is translated into impressive articulation of every aspect of the music. The orchestra seems to share his love of this composer, for its contribution is stunning, leaving one hard pressed to imagine a better performance. And the stereo sound is excellent.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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