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RECORDING OF THE MONTH

Ivo MALEC (b. 1925)
Sonoris causa (1997) [15:55]
Ottava alta (1995)a [22:43]
Exempla (1994) [33:34]
Raphaël Oleg (violin)a
Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg/Arturo Tamayo
Recorded: Conservatoire, Luxembourg, September 2004
TIMPANI 1C1086 [72:31]

 

 

 

 

Ivo Malec was born in Zagreb, Croatia. In 1959, he settled in France and joined Pierre Schaeffer in what was to become the GRM (Groupe de Recherches Musicales) one year later. When he arrived in Paris, Malec was already a fully equipped composer with a number of works to his credit, including a piano sonata (1949), a cello sonata (1956) and a symphony (1951) as well as several vocal works. He however considers his works written after 1960 as his first mature compositions. His work at the GRM was to prove extremely fruitful for his later musical progress. On the one hand, it allowed him to expand his expressive palette considerably; and, on the other hand, it made him conscious of the expressive potential of sound, as an object, so to say. From 1960 onwards, he regularly composed either electro-acoustic pieces and works for live instruments and electronics, such as Lumina (1968) for strings and tape, Cantate pour elle (1966) for soprano, harp and tape and Attaca (1986) for percussion and tape, for which he is particularly well-known and highly regarded. However, he never ceased to compose for more traditional orchestral and instrumental forces, as the three pieces recorded here fully demonstrate. From Sigma (1963) onwards, his orchestral works benefited from his experience in electro-acoustic music. In fact, as a number of other composers at that time (I think of the late Pierre Mercure and of his Lignes et Points from 1965 as another example), he asked the question as to how electro-acoustic devices could satisfyingly transfer to orchestral music. His mature composing career was devoted to finding viable answers to that question. From Sigma onwards, a number of substantial orchestral pieces such as Oral (1967) for actor and orchestra, one of his greatest pieces, Lied (1969) for 18 voices and 39 strings as well as the works heard on this CD provide several possible answers.

The three fairly recent pieces here, composed between 1994 and 1997, are rather similar in design as well as aims and means, and clearly demonstrate the extraordinary expressive strength and the technical freedom Malec acquired over the years. All three are purely abstract works displaying a dazzling orchestral mastery and a formidable aural imagination. Each work, however, has its own character. Exempla  may be considered as a synthesis of all that Malec did over the years. This substantial work, a concerto for orchestra in all but the name, exploits Malec’s expressive and technical palette to the full, revisiting almost every aspect of it in the course of its thirteen short sections. All the sections are linked by short bridge passages, described as such in the score, that prolong, modify or anticipate the content of each section. This goes to strengthen the overall coherence of the piece as a whole, that might otherwise have ‘spoken’ as a series of unrelated sketches. The music unfolds with cumulative tension, alternating static and energetic episodes. This coiling tension is eventually released in the tenth section Cors (“horns”) - the climax of the piece. This powerful outburst is then put into sharp contrast with the next section Rothko, a peaceful homage to the American painter. This is followed by a powerful, dark-hued homage to Wagner. The final section Finit: appels et signaux sounds as a faint echo of the opening music.

The violin concerto Ottava alta, a Luxembourg commission completed in 1995, may be regarded as a sequel to Ottava bassa for double bass and orchestra composed in 1984 (recorded on Erato 2292-45521-2 possibly – and hopefully – still available). This is a real violin concerto exploiting the full expressive range of the instrument, and a formidable display of instrumental virtuosity, awfully demanding, and a piece that unashamedly delights in virtuosity, but never gratuitously so. This must be one of the most exciting violin concertos written in the late 20th century. By the way, Malec also composed a cello concerto Arc-en-cello in 2000 but I have not heard it and that work is, unless I am much mistaken, still unrecorded at the time of writing.

The very title of Sonoris causa exactly says what to expect from this impressive celebration of sound IN sound. The piece clearly is in the same vein as Exempla and Ottava alta, in that it again delights in sounds, rarefied and massive, static and restlessly forward moving. This and the other works in this disc prove Malec to be Varèse’s heir, for this is the kind of music that Varèse might have written.

The present performances by the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg conducted by Arturo Tamayo, recorded in the composer’s presence, are simply stunning and exemplary; whereas the recording pays full tribute to this composer’s unequalled aural imagination. This generously filled release is the best possible introduction to Malec’s highly personal sound world. To others willing to explore the composer’s output, I suggest you try to get the Erato disc I mentioned and – still more usefully – a two-CD set entirely devoted to Malec’s music (Motus M299006). The Motus includes rare performances of Sigma, Lied and Oral, among others. But this CD is unreservedly recommended, my record of the month and – for sure – high up in my 2005 top ten.

 

Hubert Culot

 

 




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