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"Almost a Song" la guitare contemporaine
Hans Werner HENZE (b.1926)
Drei Tentos (1958)
Leo BROUWER (b.1939)
Preludios Epigrammaticos (1981)
Olivier CHASSAIN (b.1957)

Toru TAKEMITSU (1936-1996)
All in Twilight

Georges DELERUE (1926-1992)

Stephen DODGSON (b.1924)
Fantasy Divisions


Otoñales (1994)

Almost a Song

Olivier Chassain (guitar) Pierre-Henri Xuereb (viola)
Recorded at Studio Corydalis, Limoges, France, 1997 DDD
METRONOME MET CD 1021 [69:00]


Experience Classicsonline

Born in Paris in 1957, Olivier Chassain is a graduate of the Paris Conservatoire where he now teaches. Active as both performer and composer, he is perhaps best known for his advocacy of contemporary repertoire for his instrument, this particular disc bearing evidence of a thoughtful, adventurous performer and featuring a number of works that have some kind of personal connotation for him.

Interestingly the Henze, with which the disc opens, is undoubtedly the least characteristic of the works, comprising a set of three interludes drawn from his early Kammermusik of 1958. It demonstrates none of the harder-edged qualities that are associated with his later style, instead showing the influence of the composerís Italian surroundings (he resided near Naples at the time). The third piece is particularly appealing, being reminiscent of a Neapolitan song (sample one track three) and it is no surprise having listened to them that, as Chassain comments in the booklet note, these little pieces have become something of a programme mascot for him.

At the other end of the scale, Toru Takemitsuís All in Twilight, is highly characteristic of the Japanese master, his four short movements inspired by Paul Klee taking the listener on a journey from the stillness and darkness of the first two pieces to the light and liberation of the final two. As always with Takemitsu there is the feeling of an immensely practical craftsman at work and these at times almost bluesy pieces are not only amongst the finest on the disc but also receive a beautifully delicate, even loving, performance from Chassain.

Of the composers who are well known for their contribution to the guitar repertoire, the names of Leo Brouwer and Stephen Dodgson stand out. Brouwer also has the distinction of being an extraordinary figure in the musical life of his native Cuba, where he directs the music department of the Conservatoire in Havana. A guitarist himself, few composers know how to get inside the technique of the instrument as he does and this set of six highly personal Preludios Epigrammaticos, each of which bears a dedication to his friends including his wife, were originally inspired by the form of the Japanese Haï-ku. Where Brouwerís work is essentially serious, Stephen Dodgson, the only British composer represented, gives us an enjoyable set of variations on the opening "fantasy" in his Fantasy Divisions, highly polished and perhaps amongst the most contrasting of the works on show here, they are also deceptively challenging technically (sample two track twenty two). Although his name may be less familiar to those who would not consider themselves guitar aficionados, Antonio Ruiz-Pipó has produced a considerable quantity of music for the instrument, including three concertos. Pipó has lived in France for many years although he was born in Spain and his "Autumnals", premiered by Chassain in 1995, still betray his Andalucian heritage (sample three track twenty five). Each of the five pieces is inscribed to a dedicatee of which the first is Chassain himself.

Chassainís own contribution, Étoiles, is as you would expect, highly accomplished in its writing for the instrument but more than this is also a sophisticated work in its own right. Where all the other works have a reasonably detailed introduction in the booklet notes, Chassain chooses (we will assume his modesty prevented him) not to give any background to the piece, suffice to say that it is one of the most substantial pieces on the disc, the first movement, "Skyline" sustaining interest admirably through its duration of a little under seven minutes. The briefer concluding "Feux Follets" is particularly impressive in its contrasting character.

The name of Georges Delerue was new to me, his reputation being primarily that of a film composer with The Day of the Jackal and A Man for all Seasons being amongst his major successes. Graphic must have been one of the final works he composed for he never heard it, yet its dedication to Chassain clearly gives it a very personal place in the performerís repertoire. Accessible yet with a vein of underlying seriousness it is one of the more intriguing works on the disc. Concluding the disc with Edith Lejetís Almost a Song was obviously a very conscious decision by Chassain as this is the most immediately "tough" work in its language. It is also the only piece to make use of the viola, with some interesting effects for both players. The somewhat quizzical, I suspect tongue in cheek, ending of the piece is guaranteed to raise a few eyebrows.

This is a thoughtfully prepared disc in both performance and repertoire. There can be few collections of contemporary guitar music that share the same diversity and Olivier Chassain is clearly a fine advocate of music that he plays with commitment and passion. The recorded sound is close (Chassainís breathing is very obvious at times) but this does not detract from an intimate listening experience.

Christopher Thomas



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