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René MAILLARD (b.1931)
Surviving After Hiroshima - Cantata, for mezzo-soprano, vocal quartet and orchestra, op.24 (2006-7) [23:07]
Concerto Grosso, for wind quintet and strings, op.17 (1961/2003) [20:17]
Concerto da Camera no.2, for strings, op.16 (1959-60) [27:36]
Sarah Jouffroy (mezzo)
vocal quartet: Eléonore Lemaire (soprano), Marie Pouchelon (mezzo), Teddy Henry (tenor), Virgile Ancely (bass-baritone)
RPO wind quintet - Emer McDonough (flute), John Anderson (oboe), Michael Whight (clarinet), Daniel Jemison (bassoon), Christopher Parkes (French horn)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Dionysios Dervis-Bournias
rec. Cadogan Hall, London, 2-3 March 2009. DDD
NAXOS 8.572623 [71:00]

Experience Classicsonline

French composer René Maillard's career has an unusual trajectory, to say the least. After writing numerous works in his twenties, he went into compositional semi-retirement and spent the Sixties, Seventies, Eighties and Nineties working initially for EMI France but soon for an American pharmaceutical company. It was not until his retirement proper, to the Côte d'Azur at the turn of the millennium, that Maillard returned to composition. Thus the extraordinary hiatus of 42 years between his original version of the Concerto Grosso op.17 and his Second Viola Sonata op.18 of 2003; whereas, by contrast, by August 2010 he had reached op.29, and revised at least four earlier works.

Maillard's 2005 Duo Sonata for two violins op.22a appeared on a Triton disc (TRI 331145, 2006) warmly received by French critics at the time, but otherwise this is the first appearance of Maillard's music on CD - surely not his last.

The cantata Surviving After Hiroshima is an ambitious work, telling the true story of a young girl surviving the atom bomb in 1945 against the odds. The booklet notes describe the cantata as "a song of hope, a hymn to life: surviving against hatred and war in a world of mankind reunited at last [sic]." The dramaturgy is reminiscent of a toned-down Carl Orff: apt, given the subject matter, to be reminded in places of his De Temporum Fine Comoedia. Sarah Jouffroy and the SATB quartet, all native French speakers, give convincing performances, coming together nicely for a relatively uplifting finale to what is otherwise a swirling, darkly dramatic, but wholly accessible, work of considerable depth and power. The booklet has Monique Charles' full text in French with a translation into English and, in possibly a first for Naxos, in Japanese.

The three movement Concerto Grosso for wind quintet and strings is Baroque by name and to a degree in form, but the similarity soon ends: the work has more of a neo-Classical feel to it, recalling Stravinsky in spirit if not in style. This is a low-key, somewhat cogitative work, but attractive all the same, and its audience-friendliness belies both its 21st century revision date and its original composition year - in the Boulezian heyday of the Darmstadt School.

The Concerto da Camera no. 2 was written just before the Concerto Grosso, and is similar in structure, style and effect, though the strings-only scoring lends the work both extra gravitas and richness, and there are seven more minutes of music. A divertimento of sorts, this again is a fairly buttoned-up work, and although the melody is as inhibited as the general mood, Maillard was clearly writing for audiences rather than intellectual cliques - yet there is no sense of condescension. An ad-lib trumpet pops up right at the end like a Mariachi band coming in through the wrong door, injecting some levity just as the work ends.

Sound quality is well balanced, but these recordings suffer a little from a certain flatness, most noticeable in the strings and therefore mostly affecting the two instrumental works. Avid noise-reduction technology is most likely at fault, although it can scarcely be said to spoil the music. On the other hand, the Royal Philharmonic sound slightly lacklustre, perhaps not entirely sure of guitarist-turned-conductor Dionysios Dervis-Bournias's direction.

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