Martín MATALON (b.1958)
*Trame IV, for piano & 11 instruments (2001) [14:42]
+Trame II, for harpsichord & 6 instruments (1999) [15:49]
#Trame VIII, for marimba & 6 instruments (2008) [19:07]
*Florence Cioccolani (piano); +Maude Gratton (harpsichord); #Eriko Minami (marimba)
Les Siècles/François Xavier Roth
rec. Le Méjan, Arles, Frances, 15 November 2009; La Coursive, La Rochelle, France, 20 November 2008 (IV). Live recordings. DDD

Argentinian composer Martín Matalon has spent the last two decades in Paris and seems to have dropped the acute accent from his first name for general use. That makes no difference to his music of course, and this release by the French multimedia publishing house Actes Sud is actually Matalon's seventh CD in all, by various labels.

Information on Matalon and his music is limited by the design of the CD case - a foldout card design, without a booklet as such - and by the rather excessive space given over to trendy design elements - the CD looks more like a jazz release than anything - and to the musicians. Fortunately Matalon's website fills in all the missing detail, albeit chiefly in French, and surprisingly without audio samples.

Matalon's Trames series is currently at XI, with the earliest dating back to 1997. The title comes from Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges' poem, 'La Trama' ("Las dos son piezas de la trama que abarca / el círculo sin principio ni fin,") published in 1981. Matalon translates it as 'weft', though 'fabric' is perhaps more meaningful. Most of the Trames are for soloist and chamber ensemble, although three are full-blown concertos with a standard orchestra. All last between 15 and 25 minutes approximately.

The three Trames on this recording have in common a massive drive and vigour, as well as a certain rumbustiousness that sometimes borders attractively on anarchy. Matalon's inventive, throbbing music lies intriguingly somewhere between Thomas Adès and Elliott Carter. The lightly jazz-inflected Trame IV consists of five continuous movements based on the idea of "reinterpretation" (variation). The surprise epilogue brings things to an open-ended 'conclusion'. Trame II is memorable for its rather bizarre scoring, what Matalon describes as "une orchestration fauviste": solo harpsichord, bass clarinet, trombone, percussion - including an African udu and a steel drum! - bandoneón (which may be substituted by a Hammond organ, though thankfully not here), viola and double-bass. Trame VIII, the most modernist-sounding of the three, also consists of five movements played without a break. In the prélude, interlude and postlude, the marimba blends in with the other instruments, with its solo role restricted to the second and fourth sections.

Sound quality is excellent, with the three-dimensionality of a live performance somehow captured by the recording engineers, minus the de rigueur coughing, shuffling and clapping.

French chamber orchestra Les Siècles, under their founder conductor François-Xavier Roth, give an enthusiastic, sassy performance of all three works, with many fine individual contributions in the busy solo parts. The pianist in Trame IV and the harpsichordist in Trame II are required to play almost constantly at a literally blistering pace.

There is no getting away from the fact that this disc is ingloriously short, but in musical and technical terms at least it is worthy of consideration by anyone keen on exciting contemporary music that retains a recognisable direction, rhythms and even bits of tune.

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Exciting contemporary music that retains a recognisable direction, rhythms and even bits of tune.