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Laurent PETITGIRARD (b. 1950)
Dialogue for Viola and Orchestra (2002)a [23:13]
Cello Concerto (1994)b [24:25]
Le Légendaire (1983/4)c [21:09]
Gérard Caussé (viola)a; Gary Hoffmann (cello)b; Augustin Dumay (violin)c
Orchestre National de Bordeaux Aquitainea; Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestrab; Polish radio Choir, Krakowc; Classical Polish Philharmoniac; Laurent Petitgirard
rec. Salle Franklin, Bordeaux, September 2005 (Dialogue); Opéra garnier, Monte Carlo, September 1997 (Cello Concerto) and Bygdosz Philharmonic Hall, Poland, June 1986 (Le Légendaire)
NAXOS 8.557602 [68:47]


The earliest work here, the somewhat hybrid Le Légendaire for violin, chorus and orchestra, was completed in 1984. The chorus sings words in Esperanto, all “touching upon the idea of legend” (the composer’s words), although these words do not form a text as such. (Incidentally an alphabetical glossary of the words is printed in the insert notes, but it is not always easy to hear which words the chorus is singing, so that I would be tempted to think that they are mostly used as pegs to hang the music on.) The work is in one single movement unfolding through a variety of moods, “from confrontation to communion”, as the composer has it. It opens with hieratic brass fanfares giving way to more reflective, melodic solo lines. The first entry of the chorus is followed by an animated, almost angry section with angular solo lines and sombre brass with percussion, leading into a rather desolate section. This in turn is followed by a dramatic episode alternating strongly contrasted, almost conflicting moods that are eventually reconciled in the glowing, appeased and assertive coda. According to the composer, the piece is about “the one coming from somewhere else, whether he be Peter Pan, E.T. or Buddha. It is the story of a visit.” In fact, the composer leaves much to the listener’s imagination; but what comes clearly through anyway is some warmly lyrical and generous music of great communicative strength.

Petitgirard’s Cello Concerto, completed in 1994 and dedicated to Marcel Landowski, does not bear any literary or poetic title. “Its only subject is the exaltation of this marvellous instrument”. It is laid-out in three movements of roughly equal length : a moderately fast first movement with several contrasting episodes that ends quietly, preparing for the mostly reflective slow movement that concludes with an unresolved crescendo. In spite of some rhythmically alert episodes, the final movement does not entirely dispels the elegiac mood that prevailed during the preceding movements, neither does the angrily dismissive final gesture. Petitgirard’s Cello Concerto is a rather tense and intense work, partly inspired by the sudden death of one of the composer’s friends. This often gripping and moving work is undoubtedly a strongly personal utterance on the composer’s part.

Dialogue for Viola and Orchestra is the most recent work here. It was completed in 2002 and dedicated to Jesse Levine who was the soloist for the first performance in 2003. The title rather aptly suggests a discussion, in which partners constantly confront each other, disagree and – at times – agree, rather than a real concerto, in which the soloist battles against larger forces. The tone is in turn light, angry, sorrowful and impassioned; and the music reaches some forceful climaxes. The work, however, ends with a beautiful, appeased coda. Neither the Cello Concerto nor Dialogue are programmatic works. Rather they are abstract pieces of music, in which emotion and communication are paramount.

Laurent Petitgirard’s music may not be strikingly original but it is eminently personal. It is characterised by a formidable orchestral and instrumental mastery as well as a remarkable stylistic consistency; for Dialogue or Les Douze Gardiens du Temple (on Naxos 8.570138 that I reviewed here some time ago) are obviously from the same pen as the score for the Maigret TV series.

These performances played by top-rank soloists, who obviously relish the composer’s generous music, and conducted by the composer are really very fine. These recorded performances of the Cello Concerto and Le Légendaire were released some time ago, but still sound remarkably well. Anyone who has heard and enjoyed Petitgirard’s opera Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man or the orchestral works recently released by Naxos will need no further recommendation to get this most appealing release, whereas anyone enjoying accessible contemporary music will find much to enjoy here.

Hubert Culot



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