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Pierre BARTHOLOMÉE (b. 1937)
Quatuor à cordes (2004)a [24:26]
Fragments des Belles Heures (2002/3)b [39:31]
13 Bagatelles (2003)c [39:02]
Le Rêve de Diotime (1999)d [21:57]
Quatuor Danela; Dominique Mols (soprano), Ensemble "Les Belles Heures"b; Philippe Terseleer (piano)c; Valentina Valente (soprano), Ensemble Musiques Nouvelles, Pierre Bartholoméed
rec. Studio The Right Place, Brussels, June 2006 (String Quartet); Tibor Varga Foundation Studio, Sion, Switzerland, March-April 2005 (Fragments); Salle Philharmonique, Liège, July 2006 (Bagatelles) and (live) Studio 4, Brussels, December 2002 (Le Rêve de Diotime)
Text and Translations included.
CYPRES CYP 4625 [64:04 + 61:00]


Seventy this year, Pierre Bartholomée is a prominent figure in Belgian contemporary music although he also conducted and recorded some more ‘classical’ works, albeit rare ones such as symphonies by Tournemire. As pianist and conductor who founded the Ensemble Musiques Nouvelles and as music director of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Liège for nearly twenty years, he did a lot to promote contemporary music. At the helm of the OPL, he conducted a huge number of important scores by 20th century composers. It was he who introduced me to Takemitsu, Boesmans, Pousseur, Vivier, George Benjamin and many more. I particularly remember a gripping performance of Xenakis’s Aïs. He also made a number of important recordings of works by Boesmans, Pousseur, the late and much-lamented Jean-Louis Robert whose untimely death was a great loss as well as Biarent, Tournemire and Vierne. But he is – first and foremost – a composer with a sizeable output to his credit. Since his retirement, he has composed - and still does – a number of works including two operas (Oedipe sur la route, first performed at La Monnaie in 2003 and La Lumière Antigone, to be first staged at La Monnaie next season) and a handful of substantial chamber works, some of which are heard on this recent double CD-set released to mark his 70th birthday.

The earliest work here, completed in 1999, is the scena for soprano and large ensemble, Le Rêve de Diotime ("Diotima’s Dream") on words drawn from Henry Bauchau’s Diotime et les lions. To certain extent, it may be considered as a try-out for the composer’s operas, both on librettos by Henry Bauchau. Bauchau’s Diotima is the daughter of Cyrus, king of Persia. According to an old ritual, she is obliged to confront the lions, actually her mythological ancestors. In the passage chosen by Bartholomée, Diotima dreams that she is present at the fight of the sailor Arsès, who must also confront lions, but a huge wave rises up out of the sea and threatens to drown everything. The rather short excerpt drawn from Bauchau’s text provides Bartholomée with many grasped opportunities for gripping, evocative music and some very fine vocal writing. A splendid work.

The other three works were composed between 2002 and 2004 and amply demonstrate Bartholomée ‘s breadth and variety of vision. Fragments des Belles Heures for soprano and five players (alto flute, cor anglais, bass clarinet, viola and harp) sets eleven old medieval Flemish texts in Liliane Wouters’ French translation. All these settings, but the extended opening ballad Chanson d’Halewyn (Halewyn being some sort of near-cousin of Bluebeard), are quite short. In spite of the origin of the texts, Bartholomée never attempts to imitate medieval music. The composer constantly varies the songs’ accompaniment to reflect the various moods suggested by these texts. The full ensemble is used in the short interlude about halfway into the cycle (actually based on fragments from the opening ballad), accompanies about half of the settings and concludes the whole cycle with a short instrumental epilogue.

The 13 Bagatelles for piano completed in 2003 may be regarded as the sequel to the composer’s slightly earlier Variations for Piano (1999). The whole set is rather more like a series of varied studies exploring a wide range of piano writing, often rather demanding but making for some highly accessible listening. The music evokes a wide range of moods and characters, serious and playful, often with some typical Bartholomée pinch of salt, which makes the whole immensely enjoyable and rewarding.

The String Quartet of 2004 is a fairly substantial work in five movements, with a short, whimsical Scherzo placed at the centre. Actually, the entire work is laid-out in arch-form with two pairs of fast and slow movements framing the central Scherzo. The slow movements, both marked Lent, do not maintain a constant slow pace throughout. They are characterised by striking contrasts, in more animated sections apparently at odds with the main mood of the movement. For example, the second slow movement opens with nervous, troubled material followed by or leading into some eerie, ghostlike textures clashing with aggressive interjections. The Finale eventually releases some of the tension and the ambiguity accumulated in the course of the work, albeit without bringing any assertive conclusion. In fact, the final movement – and the entire work indeed – ends unresolved, with a last question mark.

Although it may be rather complex and strictly organised, Bartholomée’s often beautiful music is readily accessible, and primarily concerned with direct communication, without ever talking down. Here is a composer in full command of his aims and means, whose music is refreshingly free from any modern ‘tricks and gimmicks’ that have once tended to disfigure contemporary music with dramatic results in alienating itself from its audiences. Make no mistake, however, for there is nothing either minimalist or post-modern in Bartholomée’s finely made and sincerely felt music. In any case, this generously filled released is the best possible birthday tribute to a most distinguished composer, whose music definitely deserves wider exposure.

Hubert Culot


Other works by Pierre Bartholomée on records

Humoresque (1994, orchestra), Fredons et Tarabusts (1997, large orchestra) - Orchestre Philharmonique de Liège, Pierre Bartholomée CYPRES CYP 7603

Fin de série (1995, two violins), Variations (1999, piano), Le Point nocturne (1992, soprano and string quartet), Adieu (1988, clarinet and piano), Et j’ai vu l’âme sur un fil... (2000, flute, viola and harp), Refrains (1998, violin and trombone) Various artists CYPRES CYP 4607




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