> GRISEY Les Espaces Acoustiques [HC]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Gérard GRISEY (1946 – 1998)
Les Espaces Acoustiques (1974 – 1985)
Gérard Caussé (viola in Prologue); Ensemble Court-Circuit; Pierre-André Valade (Périodes, Partiels); Frankfurter Museumorchester; Sylvain Cambreling (Modulations, Transitoires and Epilogue)
Recorded: Radio France, Maison de la Radio, December 1997 and May 1998 (Prologue, Périodes, Partiels); (live) Strasbourg, September 1996 (Modulations, Transitoires, Epilogue)
ACCORD 206532 [48:45 + 38:34]

A few months ago, when reviewing a recording of Grisey’s last completed work (Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil [1997/8]), I mentioned his big cycle Les Espaces Acoustiques composed between 1974 and 1985 of which I found this recording while browsing through the shelves of a record shop in Brussels.

Les Espaces Acoustiques was not originally planned as a cycle. In fact, Grisey composed Périodes for seven players (1974) as the result of a commission from the Ensemble L’Itinéraire which gave the first performance in Rome in 1974. The piece, scored for flute, clarinet, trombone and string quartet (no cello, but a double bass), is a suite of clearly characterised episodes in the last of which Grisey experimented with a technique he later developed more fully and which is generally known now as "spectral music". In 1975 he completed Partiels for 18 instruments, a commission from the Ministère des Affaires Culturelles, that was again first performed by L’Itinéraire conducted by Boris de Vinogradov. Only then did he began to think about a large-scale cycle for instrumental forces of increasingly larger number. He thus decided that the first piece of the cycle should be for a solo instrument; and, since the viola plays a prominent part in Périodes, he chose to compose the Prologue for solo viola (1976). The other pieces were written when commissions came the composer’s way, though always keeping in mind that they were to be part of the cycle, and should thus maintain some structural logic with any of the other components of Les Espaces Acoustiques. Thus Modulations for 33 players (1976/7), commissioned by the Ensemble InterContemporain and dedicated to Messiaen on his 70th birthday, was first performed in 1978 conducted by Michel Tabachnik. Transitoires for orchestra, commissioned by the Symphony Orchestra of Sicily, followed in 1980/1 and was first performed in Venice in 1981. Finally, Epilogue for four horns and orchestra completed the cycle in 1985. Its first performance by the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Peter Eötvös took place in Venice again in 1985.

All pieces from the cycle, save Epilogue, may be performed separately. Transitoires and Epilogue, however, must be played together (in that order, of course!). Nevertheless, the whole cycle may be (and is better) performed complete and has already been played as such on several occasions, as it was during the Ars Musica festival in Brussels in 1993. It goes without saying that a complete performance of Les Espaces Acoustiques exerts a more telling impact since the several pieces are connected in one way or another, the more so after the completion of Prologue that acts as a red thread all through the later stages of the cycle. A complete performance, however, poses certain problems of organisation which are mostly solved by the interval during the third and fourth pieces.

So, the Prologue opens unobtrusively, one single note being slowly explored. Intervals then progressively widen whereas the harmonic spectra enrich the instrument’s palette. This free, somewhat improvisatory music merges almost unnoticed into Périodes in which strings are clearly prominent. Similarly, the final section of Périodes is, as it were, engulfed and amplified by the richer textures of Partiels. This piece, however, ends rather dreamily, in the bass register and at a low, almost inaudible dynamic level. Thus, considering the virtual impossibility of achieving complete silence in concert halls, the very end of Partiels is "accompanied" by various noises produced by the players, not the instruments, who drop their scores on the floor, shuffle their feet, cough and the like. Though this is generally discreetly done (especially in this recording), I find this "gimmick" completely irrelevant and a slight miscalculation (and the only one in the whole cycle) on the composer’s part for the tension accumulated in the course of the first three pieces and its quiet resolution at the end is gripping enough to keep the audience silent for a few seconds.

The second "panel" (Modulations, Transitoires and Epilogue) is scored for larger forces although Modulations is for medium-size orchestra. Modulations is mainly a study in orchestral textures that ends with a long crescendo leading into the richer sound palette of Transitoires. The latter is almost some sort of tone poem evoking in turn mighty natural phenomena (for the present writer, at least), craggy landscapes and wide rarefied spaces. Some of the more heavily scored sections call forth images of big lava waves drifting down the volcano’s slopes, stopped or slowed-down by protruding rocks and drifting along with lessened intensity whereas the nocturnal final section has the viola musing over some material from Prologue, supported by a delicately scored bell-like accompaniment. It slowly merges into the Epilogue first accompanied and later engulfed by woodwind rippling figures. That is where the four horns take over, first echoing, then extending the viola’s material. The final horn flourishes are punctuated by isolated bass drum strokes.

Les Espaces Acoustiques is a major achievement of late 20th Century music; and, no doubt, Grisey’s most powerful statement. It also illustrates Grisey’s progress and increasing mastery of his technique over these years while demonstrating the composer’s unfailing aural imagination and ability to structure his works on a long term basis. In Les Espaces, Grisey uses a wide-ranging array of techniques, discarding neither consonance nor harmonically enlarged "spectral" fields; but he always sees that the works of the cycle have a firm, coherent basis often achieved through the recurring use of long-held pedal notes or rhythmic ostinati. His strictly intellectual conception never excludes some vivid aural imagination, which is one of his most endearing qualities; and, no matter how technically complex it may be, Grisey’s best music strongly communicates by its sheer physical, almost elemental strength. This is the sort of music that Varèse would have written, had he lived in the 1980s.

The performances are superb: carefully prepared, polished and committed, bringing out the remarkable expressive power of this major cycle by one of the finest composers of his generation whose untimely death was – and will remain – a great loss.

Hubert Culot

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