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Tristan MURAIL (b. 1947)
Winter Fragments (2000)a [14:06]
Unanswered Questions (1995)b [4:27]
Ethers (1978)c [18:21]
Feuilles à travers les cloches (1998)d [6:06]
Le Lac (2001)e [23:06]
Erin Lesser (flute)bcd
Argento Chamber Ensembleacde/Michel Galante
rec. Istanbul, November 2003 (Winter Fragments, Ethers, Feuilles à travers les cloches); New York, October 2004  (Unanswered Questions, Le Lac)
AEON AECD 0746 [66:06]


Sixty this year, Tristan Murail belongs with the late Gérard Grisey to the so-called French ‘spectral’ school; but his music is far more reaching as the works included in this new release amply show. Many of his works bear some colourful, impressionistic titles, such as Treize couleurs du soleil couchant, Couleur de mer, Sables, Les courants de l’espace as well as Winter Fragments, Ethers and Feuilles à travers les cloches recorded here. The music, however, is neither descriptive nor programmatic. “Amongst the so-called ‘spectral’ composers, no one more than Murail puts Nature forward as a source of inspiration... This Nature that offers itself to the composer’s contemplation is not particularly bucolic and would be linked rather to the elements, their state and their changes of state.” These words taken from Pierre Rigaudière’s excellent notes perfectly sum up Murail’s approach to Nature as a source of inspiration for his music. Of course, as will be seen later, Nature is not Murail’s only inspirational source.

Winter Fragments for ensemble, sampled sounds and electronics was composed in 2000. Sampled sounds and electronics are tastefully used to enlarge and enrich the sound palette drawn from the ensemble. The music here suggests clear frosty air, frozen ground and emptiness with much subtlety. The result is a tone poem of some sort with from time to time echoes (or suggestions) of Eastern music, particularly in the important flute part. Ethers, on the other hand, is a concise flute concerto in all but the name, in which the music again vividly evokes vast empty spaces, at times static and troubled. Throughout the entire work, the music is underpinned by softly rattling sounds, over which the music unfolds in some sort of awe-stricken ritual. Although its title refers to Debussy, albeit in reverse order, Feuilles à travers les cloches for flute, violin, cello and piano is another beautifully evocative piece of music that neither quotes from nor alludes to Debussy’s work. It nevertheless displays some ‘updated’ Impressionism, which – incidentally – might be a way to describe Murail’s music or, at least, some of it.

Unanswered Questions for solo flute is characterised by some richly melodic writing, which seems to become more prominent in Murail’s recent music. Again, the work and the music are completely unrelated to Charles Ives’ almost similarly titled piece. To a certain extent, I would be tempted to compare this lovely work to some of Jolivet’s works for solo flute such as Incantations.

By far the longest work in this release, Le Lac for ensemble obliquely refers to Lamartine’s eponymous poem without any attempt at reflecting the poem’s various moods. Musically, Le Lac might be the most readily accessible work in this selection, although none of the other is either difficult or intractable, quite the contrary indeed. But what makes the music more accessible, is the melodic richness of this score and the colourful scoring sometimes redolent of Messiaen; but the music is clearly Murail’s own. All in all, Le Lac is a splendid piece of music on its own right, and – to my mind – a good example of Murail’s highly personal Nature music.

Besides Murail’s music, the ‘red threat’ here is Erin Lesser’s immaculate flute playing. She not only plays in the Argento Chamber Orchestra, but she is also heard as a soloist in Ethers, Unanswered Questions and Feuilles à travers les cloches. All performances are very fine, and the recording serves Murail’s aural imagination well.

Murail’s is a distinctive voice in French contemporary music, and this magnificent release is to my mind the best introduction possible to his highly personal sound world. Not to be missed.

Hubert Culot


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