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Marc-André DALBAVIE (b. 1961)
Color (2001) [21:28]
Violin Concerto (1996) [24:05]
Ciaccona (2002) [19’28]
Eiichi Chijiiwa (violin)
Orchestre de Paris/Christoph Eschenbach
Rec. live Théâtre du Chatelet, Paris, March 2001 (Color), Théâtre Mogador, Paris, Jan.2004 (Ciaccona) and Cité de la musique, Paris, Nov. 2003 (Concerto)
NAÏVE MO 782162 [64’21]


The name Dalvabie was not new to me, but his music certainly was. After study at the Paris Conservatoire, the composer spent five years with Boulez at IRCAM, also taking time to study conducting with the great man. He is now back at the Conservatoire as Professor of Orchestration, having spent time as resident composer with the orchestras of Minneapolis, Cleveland and a very fruitful time with Christoph Eschenbach in Paris.

Do the impressive credentials translate into impressive music? Well, anyone who entitles a major orchestral composition Color is inviting some very serious comparison with great names of the past, particularly his own countrymen from the first half of the Twentieth Century. What emerges from the works on this disc is an individual voice that pays its due homage without lapsing into eclecticism or aping of others’ style.

One thing is clear from the outset – you will not experience any type of melody, at least in its traditional sense of a line of notes making up a ‘tune’. As the booklet notes make clear, Dalvabie is concerned with timbral and spatial effects, the reorganization of sound and the continuous transformation or ‘morphing’ of his material, whether it be a chord, a motif or a rhythm. That’s the theory at least; what you will hear is a large orchestra effectively acting as a single instrument that shifts and changes its soundworld by tiny degrees, the very simplest of material changing colour before your ears. Rather than resembling Ligeti, as you might expect, it’s basically a grand rethinking of Schoenberg’s old principle of ‘klangfarbenmelodie’ or tone colour melody, as exemplified in ‘Farben’, the third of his Five Orchestral Pieces of 1909. Dalvabie’s orchestral palette is bigger and richer, more Messiaen-like, but the idea and effect is very much the same.

The Violin Concerto follows the same pattern, with the soloist used less in a conventional sense (i.e. pitted against the orchestra) and more as a spatial counterpart, weaving in and out of the continually varying textures. It’s quite effective and also owes a debt to electronic experimentation, but occasionally I felt the soloist wanted to take wing and was being held back by the composer to make his point.

Ciaccona might conjure up thoughts of dance origins or passacaglia, and I suppose there are parallels with the latter in Dalvabie’s use of repetition over which gradual transformation of varying material takes place. But the end result is more like the soundtrack to a moody thriller or horror film than ‘absolute’ music that can really stand on its own. I also get the impression that these works really need the concert hall for the full effect to be realised, even though the performances and recording appear to be first rate. Interesting rather than earth-shatteringly original.

Tony Haywood


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