Pascal DUSAPIN (b. 1955)
Seven Solos for Orchestra:
No.1 “Go” (1992) [8:04]
No.2 “Extenso” (1993/4) [12:31]
No.3 “Apex” (1995) [15:55]
No.4 “Clam” (1998) [11:24]
No.5 “Exeo” (2002) [13:29]
No.6 “Reverso” (2005/6) [19:09]
No.7 “Uncut” (2008/9) [9:36]
Orchestre Philharmonique de Liège Wallonie Bruxelles/Pascal Rophé
rec. Salle Philharmonique de Liège, Belgium, February 2008 (Go, Exeo), June 2008 (Apex), April 2009 (Reverso, Uncut) and June 2009 (Extenso, Clam)
NAÏVE MO 782180 [48:09 + 42:23]

“In the early 1990s I wanted to get away from the running times of between ten and twenty minutes that are invariably associated with commissions for orchestra. Since no one was offering me commissions to produce longer symphonic forms I decided to bide my time. I dreamt of an extended, complex form comprising seven autonomous episodes regenerating themselves from within, fertilising other possibilities, and proliferating on the interstices left open …” These words by the composer perfectly sum up the global conception of his large-scale orchestral cycle Seven Solos for Orchestra composed between 1992 and 2009. However the title of the individual works “Solo” may be a bit puzzling when applied to often very large orchestral forces; but, as the composer has it, this is a cycle of seven solos for that ‘large solo instrument’, the orchestra. Although they were composed at intervals over some seventeen years and first performed separately (some have even been recorded before), the seven works were from the start conceived as a whole which this complete recording makes clear even to the unprofessional but attentive music-lover as the present writer. I am sure that some in-depth scrutiny of the scores will reveal the many connections between the pieces; but this is obviously not the point within the scope of this review. It would anyway be beyond my skills.

True to its title Go opens with a forceful unison that will predominate throughout this essentially dynamic movement. There is however room for some brief, calmer episodes. The material is derived from scales consisting of four or five notes that in one guise or another will recur across the entire cycle.

In total contrast the second solo Extenso picks up the melodic material briefly heard in Go and extends it in different ways. The music picks up where that of Go finished - all solos but the last one actually end calmly - and strings deploy a long-winding counterpoint, at times punctuated by more animated, contrasting episodes (brass and percussion). The music reaches a mighty climax before ending unresolved. To a certain extent Extenso may be experienced as a dark, often troubled and dramatic Adagio reminiscent of Mahler and Hartmann.

The third solo, Apex again opens in the orchestra’s darkest register. Pulsating rhythms derived from the preceding solo introduce a long, hesitating section in which the music seems to be looking for some definite goal and thus proceeds helter-skelter. “The form advances by means of contractions and spasms” (Pascal Dusapin). At the end, though, the stifling atmosphere somewhat brightens with a varied reminiscence of the string counterpoint from Extenso. Apex, too, ends calmly on a soft timpani roll.

The fourth solo, Clam (Latin for “unbeknown to” or “surreptitiously”) opens in mystery. The music then unfolds in wave-like motion, expanding and contracting, to reveal elements from some of the preceding solos at first hidden under the surface and coming out of it under a different light. The music, as in Apex, does not seem to have any precise goal except that in the end it stays crouched in the shadows ready to spring into the next solo Exeo (“I go out”).

Exeo is inscribed “In memoriam Iannis Xenakis” whose music it somehow brings to mind. It is scored for large orchestra without percussion and opens with a violent clash typical of Dusapin’s music: between high and low registers of the orchestra thus leaving a “black hole” in between. The music then moves relentlessly as a mass of lava flowing down the slopes of a volcano. It sometimes bumps against protruding rocks, is momentarily diverted and then resumes its course. As the previous solos, it too ends unresolved.

As the composer remarks in his insert notes Reverso is the only solo composed in four sections of varying tempos. It is also the longest of the entire cycle. The opening suggests – to the present writer – mighty ebbing waves. The second section is mostly dominated by a long melodic line played by the strings with punctuation from the percussion - a reminiscence of the pulsating rhythms heard in Extenso, albeit varied. Unnoticed, this section moves into a violent, almost brutal Scherzo eventually dissolving into the beautiful final section functioning as a summation of the cycle so far.

Uncut, however, is the real summing-up. It opens with bright horn fanfares and the music then unfolds presenting material from the preceding solos, again in different light. The music moves on without any pause towards its abrupt close.

Dusapin’s Seven Solos for Orchestra is a substantial cycle in which the composer demonstrates his ability to think in the long span. He has not yet composed a symphony – and will probably never will – but the intricate working of the material comes quite close to symphonic thinking. This does not really come as a surprise when one knows Dusapin’s admiration for Sibelius. In this respect I remember an Ars Musica concert several years ago when his own La Melancholia (1991) had been performed – by his own choice – alongside Sibelius’s Fourth Symphony. Seven Solos also displays Dusapin’s love of the orchestra to the full. His scoring in all these pieces is just masterly with many arresting orchestral touches.

Pascal Rophé conducts vital and committed readings of these often impressive scores and the polished and immaculate playing of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Liège Wallonie Bruxelles is perfectly in tune with Dusapin’s superb writing. The recording, too, brings out all the qualities of Dusapin’s music.

All in all, this is a quite impressive and important release that clearly deserves the widest exposure possible. It will appeal to all those who love Dusapin’s music but also to those ready to investigate such powerful, though accessible music.

Hubert Culot

Dusapin’s large-scale orchestral cycle in committed, superbly recorded performances.