Bruno MANTOVANI (b.1974)
Concerto for two violas and orchestra (2007-08) [38:36]
Time Stretch (on Gesualdo), for orchestra (2005) [15:54]
Finale, for orchestra (2007) [14:48]
Tabea Zimmermann (viola); Antoine Tamestit (viola)
Liège Royal Philharmonic/Pascal Rophé
rec. Salle Philharmonique, Liège, 6-10 July 2009. DDD
AEON AECD 1102 [69:18]
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 disc here 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 disc (review). 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
Fine performances and recordings of what is often demanding music.