French composer Bruno Mantovani now has a fair few CDs to his
credit. This is the sixth devoted entirely to his works, and
the third by French label Aeon - see review of the previous
and of a more recent work on Solstice here.
Critics have previously stressed Mantovani's inclination towards
the employment of jazz and pop techniques in his writing - faint-praising
him in one case by likening him to a French Mark-Anthony Turnage
- but there is nothing of that kind in these works. Nor does
his music bear any resemblance, thankfully, to his mononymous
namesake, the late Italian cascading-strings maestro.
A concerto for two violas is, somewhat surprisingly, a pretty
novel idea. Two violins, or one violin and one viola have been
done a few times, but concertos for two violas do not come easily
to mind - Bach's 'Brandenburg' Concerto no.6 is perhaps the
only obvious example of a sort. Leaving aside questions of its
modern idiom, the dark, delicious sonorities created by the
two soloists in Mantovani's concerto cast doubt on the artistic
legitimacy of such neglect.
The Double Viola Concerto was written for and premiered by the
two soloists in this recording. There’s the young French
violist Antoine Tamestit and the hugely experienced German Tabea
Zimmermann. The latter is known for her commitment to new music.
Some may remember her as the dedicatee of Ligeti's outrageous
Solo Viola Sonata, which was recorded by Geneviève Strosser
and released by Aeon almost concurrently with this Mantovani
The standard of playing here is predictably brilliant, and that
goes for members of the orchestra too - there is a lot of virtuosic
writing splashed across the score.
In terms of scale, structure and concertante ideas, this work
is not unlike a traditional Romantic concerto, but the gestures
and phrasing leave no doubt as to its modernity. Nonetheless,
diatonic bits and pieces put in various cameo appearances, and
the overall effect is of loose concinnity. Those whose ears
are attuned to this style of communication will recognise a
major work - and, fingers crossed, a genre trendsetter.
Finale was commissioned by the international conducting
competition at Besançon as a test-piece for the final
round in 2007. Competitors might well have hoped for something
a little easier! The piece has a sizable role for solo flute,
which lulls the listener into an immediate false sense of security
in a gentle, almost pastoral introduction. Generally speaking,
the work consists of a number of clamorous, yet coherent, and
vaguely tonal, climaxes by the tutti. These are separated by
quieter passages, often featuring the solo flute over a more
subdued orchestra characterised now by long-held drones.
Time Stretch (on Gesualdo) is a fairly similar work. This
is all the more so, probably, for those less than impressed
by Mantovani's burred style. Here the soloist's mantle is taken
over by the clarinet. The work was commissioned and premiered
by the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra. The title comes from a reference
of some sort to a madrigal of Mantovani's great predecessor
embedded deep in the music. Mantovani's explanation for it in
the interview will probably strike the general reader as decidedly
French. For example, he describes his approach as "a kind of
rape of Gesualdo, since his writing was quite obviously horizontal
and contrapuntal, and I take vertical consequences from it.[...]
My music is [...] - to use ready-made concepts - a mise en
abyme. It is a form of relativisation, like adding spice
to a dish."
The Liège Royal Philharmonic, though not a high-profile
orchestra, turn in fine performances in all three works, for
what is often demanding music. Finale and Time Stretch
in particular require a very nimble-fingered, big-lunged brass
section, and fast changes in tempo and dynamics in general.
Pascal Rophé continues his very commendable dedication
to the works of living French composers.
Sound quality and production values are excellent. The card-based
'jewel case' may not be to everyone's liking - sliding the booklet
back into its slot requires kid gloves. But the booklet itself
is attractive and informative. An interview with Mantovani enterprisingly
replaces the standard notes format, whilst still communicating
all the expected material. The translations are well done on
the whole, although there are one or two eyebrow-raisers dotted
about, whether factual or terminological. For example, the notes
say that Mantovani's work often reflects "popular forms" such
as "jazz [and] Eastern music"; that he is "headmaster of the
Paris Conservatory"; and that he has collaborated not only with
librettists and choreographers, but also with a Catalan chef
- presumably on some kind of salsa.
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk