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Jean-Louis AGOBET (b. 1968)
Génération Concerto Grosso pour trois clarinettes et orchestre [15:30]
Phonal Pour grand orchestre [12:01]
Feuermann Grand duo pour violoncello et orchestre [8:12]
Ritratto concertante Concerto pour piano et orchestre [19:41]
Michel Portal (clarinet)
Paul Meyer (clarinet)
Alain Billard (clarinet)
Xavier Phillips (cello)
Alexandre Paley (piano)
Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg/François-Xavier Roth
rec. 28-29 October 2004, Palais de la musique at des congrès, Salle Érasme, Strasbourg. DDD
TIMPANI 1C1094 [55:50]
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The booklet note for this disc of orchestral works by the relatively young French composer Jean-Louis Agobet, states that he is ‘freed of all national references. And also free of any dogma and belonging to no coterie […]’.

Try as one might, it is not really possible to hear any direct influence on Agobet’s music from any particular source. His language and approach are strikingly individual at a time when contemporary music can become almost predictable. His music could certainly not be labelled as specifically ‘French’. The four works premièred on this disc are performed by the Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg for whom Agobet was composer-in-residence between 2001 and 2004, and two of the works, Génération and Feuermann were commissioned jointly by the orchestra and Radio France.

There is a strong sense of tonality amongst this repertoire as well as aspects of atonality that pervade Agobet’s music. There is also much virtuosity within these works, with rhythm and orchestral colour playing a vital role. Structure is strong – any weakness in compositional technique would be easily and immediately noticeable in this idiom.

The only entirely orchestral work here is Phonal. It displays a shrewd knowledge of and talent for orchestration. While the most substantial of the four compositions is the Ritratto Concertante in one movement, the most instantly outstanding and notable is Feuermann. This is the shortest work on the disc. Feuermann is intended as the first movement of a three-movement cello concerto to be completed in the future. It is fiercely virtuosic and Xavier Phillips presents a focused and self-assured interpretation. The longer Ritratto Contertante is described as a ‘portrait of the instrument and performer’ and was written with the impressive Alexandre Paley in mind.

The opening work, Génération, is in three movements and harks back to the Baroque structure of the concerto grosso, with a dialogue between the three solo clarinets and the orchestra. This is, however, as far as the link goes; the Baroque influence not extending to the overall form of the work or to the harmonic and rhythmic language. The three clarinettists in this recording – Michel Portal, Paul Meyer and Alain Billard – are extremely musical and precise, each tackling their challenging roles with equal conviction.

The performances are of a high standard throughout, in this complex and demanding music. François-Xavier Roth directs his players skilfully and there is a resounding confidence about the finished result. The recorded sound is mostly clear, but certain sections of the orchestra are often a little distant, in particular the brass.

Olivier Erouart writes a sincere note on the composer, while Agobet himself gives us an insight into both himself and the music.

Supporters of contemporary music who may have not heard any music from this composer should certainly give this disc a try – thoroughly recommended.

Adam Binks




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