> JOLIVET string symphony, Yin-Yang etc [PL]: Classical Reviews- June 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

Hungarian cello concertos

Emma Johnson

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André JOLIVET (1905-1974)
Symphonie pour cordes (1961) [21.51]
Yin-Yang (1973) [19.20]
Adagio (1960) [8.07]
La Flèche du Temps (1973) [15.18]
Andante (1935) [8.13]
Orchestre des Pays de Savoie, cond. Mark Foster
recorded 23-26 September 1994 at the Dôme-Théâtre, Albertville. DDD
TIMPANI 1C1027 [73.34]
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André Jolivet was one of four young French composers who formed the group ‘Jeune France’ in 1936, another of the four being Olivier Messiaen. Their humanistic and spiritual ideals were an obvious reaction to the prevailing frivolity, as they saw it, of contemporary neo-classicism. Swimming, as they were, very much against the tide, ‘Jeune France’ (as an ideal, as a group) fizzled out. Messiaen survived by virtue of sheer individuality and personality. Jolivet is occasionally played but seldom recorded: in fact all the pieces on this disc – with the exception only of the earliest and least representative piece, the Andante of 1935 – are new to the catalogue. And, rightly or wrongly, the other two of the four (Yves Baudrier and Daniel Lesur) are largely forgotten.

A Montmartre Parisian by birth, Jolivet received no formal tuition in music until his twenties. His teacher (Paul Le Flem) introduced him to Varèse who, not surprisingly, had a profound effect on his artistic outlook. Anyone coming new to Jolivet’s music (as I have) will notice a distinctive voice which (it has to be said) is neither faceless nor forgettable. The influence of Varèse manifests itself (not at all obviously) in its primitive and percussive rhythmic energy – though there is plenty of sub-surface Stravinsky and Bartók here too. And there are echoes of Messiaen in his fondness of ritual and prayer-like lyricism, and dense organ-like harmonic blocks. In truth, his music defies crude pigeon-holing. It is radical, uncompromising and (in its way) unique.

This music is difficult both to perform and to listen to. Jolivet’s writing takes his players to the very edge of their instruments’ capabilities. As for his listeners, they can too easily lose their way, given his tendency to minimal repetition and continual sidestepping, to say nothing of the almost unrelenting dissonance of much of his music. But, given the variety of material on offer here, I’m aware that such summaries are potentially misleading. Don’t allow any of my remarks to dissuade you from giving this challenging and rewarding music a try.

The early Andante is in fact a transcription and rewrite of a String Quartet movement written a year previously in 1934. Adagio was written 26 years later in 1960-61. Given that this strikingly expressive and descriptive music was inspired by (and in very specific ways modeled on) the ‘architecture’ of El Greco’s Burial of the Count of Orgaz, Jolivet’s title seems curiously inappropriate.

Much less accessible is the Symphony for String Orchestra, whose high harmonic temperatures and dark polyphony make for very demanding listening. But I have to agree with Harry Halbreich (author of the informative notes) when he writes of a "genuine expressive depth which only reveals itself after repeated listening … the kind of piece for which a recording is invaluable".

La Flèche du Temps, for 12 strings, and Yin-Yang, for 11 strings, date from his last years. Although written almost simultaneously, they take notably different paths – the former eventually becoming aggressive and violent, the latter serene and peaceful. In fact Yin-Yang, a commission from Mstislav Rostropovich, has a spiritual dimension which is rewarding, its textural complexity (eleven real parts) notwithstanding.

You’ll have gathered from my report that I have been stirred by this music. The Orchestre des Pays de Savoie are severely tested, but play well – though they sound much more like an ensemble of solo strings than an orchestra per se. The conductor, Mark Foster, seems to have every score completely in his grasp. The recording is admirably clear: closely balanced, but not without ambience. Strongly recommended.

Peter J Lawson


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