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Bruno MANTOVANI (b.1974)
Troisième Round (2001)a
La Morte Meditata (1999)b
Turbulences (1998)
Sylvia Marini-Vadimova (mezzo-soprano)b; Vincent David (saxophone)a; Ensemble TM+; Laurent Cuniot
Recorded: Espace de projection, IRCAM, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, May 2003
AEON AECD 0315 [60:18]


Though still in his late thirties, Bruno Mantovani, who has a sizeable body of works to his credit, has consistently drawn much favourable critical attention. The release under review, actually the second disc devoted to his music by the new French label AEON (I have not heard the first one [AECD 0208]), offers three fairly recent works that give a good idea of his present output. Quite early on in his composing career, he has been blessed with commissions from several celebrated performing artists and various ensembles, which have provided him with opportunities to display his virtuosity and technical mastery. His music, however, is also immensely lyrical and – most importantly, I believe – deeply sincere and honest. The three works here, no doubt, offer a fairly comprehensive survey of his recent output. The earliest one, Turbulences for mixed ensemble of twelve players, was completed in 1998 and first performed by Peter Eötvös. True to its title, it traces an often chaotic journey from the contrapuntal opening section to the dream-like, ecstatic concluding section, through a series of contrasted episodes, in turn almost static and wildly energetic.

La Morte Meditata, a substantial setting of Ungaretti’s eponymous six-poem cycle for mezzo-soprano and a small instrumental ensemble à la Birtwistle (three clarinets, piano and string trio), is an ambitious piece and a considerable achievement in its own right, and to my mind quite successful. It opens with a lengthy instrumental introduction stating the main material of the whole piece which the ensuing settings vary at some length and with a remarkable imagination. The red thread running through the whole piece is a number of words, such as ombra and morte, each being given its specific musical colour, so as to ensure some coherence in this otherwise quite contrasted and eventful setting, reflecting moods suggested by Ungaretti’s words. Mantovani’s lyrical gifts are much in evidence in the beautifully supple and flexible vocal part, for all its demands and technical difficulties. The setting, as a whole, is remarkably varied, by turns dreamy and angry, dramatic and meditative, in its response to Ungaretti’s verse. Mantovani conjures up a powerfully expressive sound-world from his seemingly limited instrumental forces; and his music abounds in many imaginative instrumental touches, always enhancing the words’ suggested moods rather than running against the stream for virtuosity’s sake. Indeed, expression and communication are clearly paramount, in spite of the music’s complexity, as is quite clear in the beautifully moving, hushed conclusion of the work.

Troisième Round, a concerto for saxophone and ensemble in all but name, obviously shares many characteristics with the other works here; but with a much greater freedom. The exacting solo part is present from first to last, and runs through the five interlinked sections, although the soloist in turn performs on tenor, soprano, alto and baritone saxophones. The overall impression left by this brilliant, often virtuosic piece, however, is that of a clear line with a clearly defined final goal. This is in fact the impression that one gets in the other pieces recorded here, particularly so in La Morte Meditata that journeys forth towards some final, albeit hard-won serenity.

Bruno Mantovani is a young composer to be reckoned with, who has things to say and who knows how to say them. He is not afraid of using a wide range of expressive and technical means to communicate his intensely lyrical and passionate vision. In doing so, his music may be fairly complex, but never extravagantly so (although he puts many demands on his performers) or disarmingly simple, without ever being banal. I am sure that we may expect much in the future from this endearing composer who is superbly well served by his performers and the recording team. Warmly recommended.

Hubert Culot



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