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Éric PÉNICAUD (b.1952)
Chamber music with guitar
Jubilatio [6:33]
Laure Florentin (soprano), Renaud Duret (guitar)
Le chant du torrent [4:03]
Éric Pénicaud (10 string guitar)
Le nuage d’inconnaissance [8:28]
Hélène Clément, Sylvie Bonet (violin), Valérie Pélissier (viola), Manuel Cartigny (cello), Sylvain Cinquini (guitar)
Petite suite pour les enfants [5:02]
Jean-Christophe Selmi (violin), Renaud Duret (guitar)
Stable/Mouvants [6:43]
Jean-Marc Boissière (flute), Renaud Duret (guitar)
Le fil d’Ariane [7:21]
David Dreyfus (flute), Valérie Pélissier (viola), Sylvain Cinquini (guitar)
Irisation [5:48]
Yannick Pignol (guitar)
Oviri, petit concerto pour le grand large [7:52]
Janette Filipas (alto flute), Franck Pantin (Fender piano and synthesizer), Éric Pénicaud (guitar)
Pour un Finale [1:16]
Gilbert Gambus (darbouka), Éric Pénicaud (electro-acoustic guitar) 
rec. 2006, Studio Richard Larrozé, Aubagne, France
QUANTUM QM7036 [53:35]

Beyond the fact that he was born in Casablanca, I know little of Éric Pénicaud. The booklet notes to this CD – not terribly well Englished – tell us that he is a classical player who can also play jazz and flamenco guitar, though the music on the CD itself would probably be enough to tell us that. But it also goes on to add that he “used to be a guitar player, now his work as a composer (eight international rewards) is definitely overcoming”. I take that to mean that for Pénicaud composing is taking over from playing. Not completely, however, since he plays on the three of the tracks here, on a CD which carries the title ‘Musique de chamber avec guitare’. Pénicaud’s music, on this evidence, is accessible, mildly adventurous, entertainingly eclectic, and works mostly on the small-scale.
Unfortunately the booklet is a bit short on hard information, such as the dates of composition - though we are told that the Petite suite pour les enfants is “an early work” - so that I am in no position to speculate about Pénicaud’s development as a composer.
Two pieces are for solo guitar. The composer himself, on a 10 string guitar, plays Le chant du torrent, a programmatic piece (though in no way limited by its programmatic intentions) which alternates rapid runs with fragmented phrases, brief moments of calmness with unexpected rhythmic accents, until it finally subsides into silence. Irisation is played by Yannick Pignol; the title (in English at any rate) is a synonym for iridescence and, in meteorology, designates the effect produced by light diffracting around water drops in clouds. Both meanings have a certain aptness to this reflective music, punctuated by unexpected instrumental effects, in which repeated patterns emerge in changed instrumental colouration.
There are four duo pieces. In Jubilatio the soprano Laure Martin introduces the piece with some unaccompanied (and wordless) vocal lines which owe something to the cry of the muezzin and something to the traditions of flamenco; in later dialogues the voice and the instrument dominate alternately, before the soprano’s recourse to more ‘western’ lyrical patterns and to some quasi-twelve-tone vocal lines effects a change in direction. This is a haunting and resonant piece – I have returned to it more often than to any other track on the CD. The Petite suite is less adventurous, more simply tonal, divided into four linked movements, pleasant but rather slight. In Stable/Mouvants there are, as the title implies, plenty of antitheses and contrasts, most noticeably in the form of changes of tempo, but also in terms of the contrast between the percussive single sounds and legato phrases. It makes for intriguing and engaging listening. The CD closes with what seems to be a concert recording - whereas the other tracks were obviously recorded in the studio - of a duet between Pénicaud’s guitar and the darbouka (a goblet drum played with the hands) of Gilbert Gambus. Much in this piece sounds improvised – indeed, I would be interested to know how far there are elements of improvisation on some of the other tracks too.
Increasing the ensemble by another instrument, there are two trios on the CD. Le fil d’Ariane – though I am not sure how it relates to Ariadne’s thread – is a well-made piece in which the guitar dominates less than it does in some of the other pieces. There are lovely tone colours to be had from this particular combination of instruments, and this is a rewarding exploration, less labyrinthine than its title might suggest. Oviri (can this be the Tahitian word which Gauguin uses, meaning, I think, something like “a savage who lives in the forest”?) involves, I suspect, a good deal of improvisation, especially in the extended solo for Pénicaud’s guitar; it has a certain grace, but not much ‘wildness’, and its subtitle suggests the sea rather than the forest, so perhaps my guess about the title is wrong. It is a pleasant, but not especially memorable piece.
The largest ensemble here is made up of string quartet and guitar, and is heard in Le nuage d’inconnaissance. Pénicaud is clearly one for allusive titles and this is presumably a reference to the anonymous fourteenth-century English spiritual treatise known as the Cloud of Unknowing? The booklet notes by Richard Larrozé tell us only that the composer’s one observation on the work is “‘no comment’ (in English)” – which rather confirms the allusion, since The Cloud of Unknowing is much concerned with the inhibiting effects of the human desire to understand, to have things explained! Far be it from me, then, to attempt any ‘explanation’! Suffice it to say that it is a work of fair musical subtlety, meditative, yet with moments of real power; perhaps the most obviously ‘classical’ piece on the disc, it has revealed more of itself on each of several listenings.
This music is not startling innovative nor of great profundity. It is, though, music which is well-made and seems to speak clearly of a distinctive personality.
Glyn Pursglove


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