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.
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.
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.
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.