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Henri DUTILLEUX (b. 1916)
CD 1
Le Loup – fragments symphoniques (1953) [15:54]
Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire/Georges Prêtre
rec. September and October 1961, Salle Wagram, Paris
Tout un monde lointain… (1970) [29:01]
Mstislav Rostropovich (cello), Orchestre de Paris/Serge Baudo
rec. November 1974, Salle Wagram, Paris
L’Arbre des songes (1985) [23:54]
Renaud Capuçon (violin), Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France/Myung-Whun Chung
rec. 8-11 February 2001, Salle Pleyel, Paris
CD 2
Métaboles (1964) [17:34]
The Shadows of Time (1997) [22:47]
Symphony No. 2 ‘Le Double’ (1959) [30:43]
Timothée Collardot, Aude Guiral, Sarah Lecolle (children’s voices) (Shadows)
Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse/Michel Plasson
rec. 28-30 June 1998 (Symphony) and 3-6 January 2001 (Métaboles, Shadows), Halle-aux-grains, Toulouse
EMI CLASSICS 2068792 [69:07 + 71:16]
Experience Classicsonline

EMI has collected here some of the most important orchestral works, including the concertos, of Henri Dutilleux, material previously released on EMI and Virgin and now available at rock-bottom prices.  Conspicuous by its absence, though, is Timbres, espace, mouvement inspired by Van Gogh’s painting ‘La nuit étoilée’, that Dutilleux composed in 1978/91 and that is one of his undisputed masterpieces.  On the other hand, this set includes the early Le Loup (The Wolf) ballet suite, which the composer later disowned.  I know of no other recording of this three-movement suite and so for the completist it is good to have it here, even if it sounds little like the Dutilleux we know today.  It is rather a grab-bag of influences, from Ravel, Roussel, Varèese, and Poulenc, among others.  It is a colorful, but rather noisy.  If Dutilleux had continued in this style, it is doubtful that he would be recognized as the most important late twentieth-century French composer after Messiaen.  Le Loup receives here an appropriately garish performance by Prêtre and the conservatory orchestra.
The rest of the discs, though, contain mature compositions — not only some of the greatest Dutilleux has written, but also some of the most appealing composed by anyone during the last half of the past century.  Dutilleux is a wonderful stylist and master orchestrator, following the line that began with Debussy and Ravel.  He has not composed as much as Messiaen did, but what he has written has a concision and internal logic that are most attractive.  His works may not be as big as Messiaen’s or have as many extra-musical connotations, but they likely will have as much staying power.  One can listen to them many times over without boredom or feel like you have taken on the whole world.  Having the majority of his orchestral works available on a two-disc set at such prices is a real bargain.  All of the performances here are certainly more than adequate and two of them are among the best available.
These two are on the first CD.  They are the Cello Concerto, Tout un monde lointain…(which translates as A Whole World Distant…), and the Violin Concerto, L’Arbre des songes (The Tree of Dreams).   EMI has selected the classic performance by Mstislav Rostropovich, for whom the work was composed, for the Cello Concerto.  In many ways this one has never been surpassed, although there are others that equal or come near to equaling it.  As in many of his other recordings, Rostropovich seems larger than life.  Some of this may be due to the recording which places him closer to the microphones than is customary now, but it is also true that he tended to dominate in whatever repertoire he performed.  There is nothing wrong with that when the results are as magnificent as they are here.  I would, though, have appreciated more involvement from the orchestra at times.  They have an important part to play in this concerto.  Again this may be due to the recording more than the performance.  At any rate, when comparing this one to another made in the composer’s presence in the early 1990s by Lynn Harrell and the Orchestre National de France under Charles Dutoit for Decca, the latter has the cello better integrated with the orchestra.  Harrell is also excellent, if not as commanding as Rostropovich, and Dutoit accompanies superbly.  EMI might instead have chosen the original discmate with the Violin Concerto, Truls Mørk’s, which also received excellent reviews and which I have not heard. In any event  Rostropovich’s authority is unimpeachable. 
I have no reservations at all about Renaud Capuçon’s account of the wonderful Violin Concerto.  This is in many ways the greater of the two concertos, which Dutilleux composed some fifteen years after the Cello Concerto.  It is in four movements interspersed with three interludes.  While the violin line is sufficiently virtuosic, the orchestral part is on an equal plane.  Capuçon’s performance is all one could ask.  He has a big, warm sound, but Chung also brings out the important orchestral role exceedingly well.  The orchestration includes the rather exotic cimbalom that adds interest to the texture.  The concerto is full of lyricism, but also contains moments of high drama and ends with a typically Dutilleuxan percussion outburst.  Only at the very end, do I prefer Pierre Amoyal and Dutoit, whose version is on the disc with the Cello Concerto cited above.  Their percussion is more incisive and makes a greater impact at the end.  Otherwise, Capuçon’s performance is more commanding than Amoyal’s and Chung’s orchestra is on a par with that of Dutoit.  The work also contains a bit of humor, with the third interlude’s mock tuning of the orchestra.
If only the second disc contained performances on the same level as those on the first, I could consider this as a “bargain of the month”.  Unfortunately, that is not the case.  While all three works receive good accounts and are accurately played, there are better ones to be found elsewhere.  Plasson has recorded excellent performances of other twentieth-century music - two Milhaud symphonies for DG come to mind. Here he rather skims the surfaces of the Dutilleux works leaving an impression of blandness with the listener.  This is especially true of The Shadows of Time, one of Dutilleux’s strongest recent compositions.  Ozawa and the Boston Symphony, for whom the work was composed, produce an infinitely more exciting account on a Warner Elatus CD.  Plasson’s children’s voices are perhaps sweeter than Ozawa’s, but they play a rather minor role in the composition as a whole.  The dynamic range on Ozawa’s CD is also greater than on Plasson’s.  Likewise, Métaboles, one of Dutilleux’s more frequently performed compositions is somewhat lacking in dynamism here.  Comparing this account with Rostropovich’s on the Warner CD cited above or Saraste’s with the Toronto Symphony on Finlandia does no favors to Plasson.  Incidentally, Saraste’s disc, also containing the Symphony No. 2 and the revised version of Timbres, espace, mouvement did not receive its due in the critical press when it was first released.  This I believe is because the disc was cut at a rather low level and needs a considerable boost in volume to make its effect.  Once this is done, the resulting recordings are as vibrant and exciting as any in the catalogue.
Finally, the Symphony No. 2 has received more vital performances by Saraste and by Yan Pascal Tortelier with the BBC Philharmonic.  The Chandos set conducted by Tortelier containing most of Dutilleux’s major works is probably the safest way to obtain a good cross-section of the composer, if you are having only one set.  However, the bargain-hunter could do worse than purchase the EMI set under review.  The first CD itself is worth the modest price of the set and you at least would have two of the greatest concerto recordings and more than serviceable ones of the other works.  Now, we need a recording of Dutilleux’s song cycle, Correspondances, that he composed for Dawn Upshaw in 2003 and anything else he has written since.
Leslie Wright


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