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Lucien DUROSOIR (1878-1955)
Le Balcon - Symphonic Poem, for solo bass, vocal ensemble and string quintet (1924) [17:29]
Sonnet à un Enfant, for soprano and piano (1930) [4:35]
Idylle, for wind quartet (1925) [12:57]
Piano Trio in B minor (1926-27) [28:43]
Trilogie: Improvisation, Maïade, Divertissement, for cello and piano (1931) [12:20]
Berceuse (Aquarelle no.4), for cello and piano (1920) [3:15]
Le Balcon: Ensemble Sequenza 9.3; Diotima Quartet; Catherine Simonpietri (conductor)
Sonnet: Kareen Durand (soprano) Jeff Cohen (piano)
Idylle: Aquilon Quintet
Trio: Trio Hoboken
Trilogie: Raphaël Merlin (cello) Johan Farjot (piano)
Berceuse: Eric Picard (cello) Jérôme Granjon (piano)
rec. Ferme de Villefavard, Limousin, France, 30 April-2 May 2010; +Radio France, 23-25 August 2005; */**Eglise Saint Jean, Paris, 11-12 February 2010. DDD
ALPHA 175 [79:46]

Experience Classicsonline

French label Alpha continue their almost single-handed, entirely justified attempt to bring the music of French composer Lucien Durosoir to long overdue public attention with this, their fourth CD of his works (following Alpha 105, 125 and 164), all in first recordings.  

Durosoir operated tangentially to the intellectual mainstream of the post-war period in self-imposed cultural isolation. His music virtually constitutes a branch of its own. There are an individualism and an imagination evident in these works that make Durosoir's absence from the histories not just of French music, but from 20th century musical culture in general, inexplicable and little short of scandalous. Exhilaration, poignancy, mystery, beauty, complexity, invention - it is all there, in Durosoir's music, just waiting for audiences to buy Alpha's splendid CDs!
Durosoir focused mainly on chamber music, and only two completed vocal works exist, both heard on this disc. Sonnet à un Enfant is a melancholy mélodie in the style of the French masters, based on a poem by Raymond de La Tailhède and thoughtfully sung by Kareen Durand. Le Balcon, after Baudelaire's famous if sordid poem (also set by Debussy), is an unusual work, both in concept and structure. It’s compelling and memorable, as the solo bass sings Baudelaire's six stanzas over an evocative string quintet playing continuously, joined in short bursts and to great effect by an SSA trio of female voices, three to a part, singing wordlessly.
This is at least the third recording featuring French ensemble Sequenza 9.3, specialists in 20th century vocal music, following a disc of works by Thierry Escaich (review) and their debut on Alpha a year later (112), featuring music by Jolivet, Daniel-Lesur and Messiaen. It is hard to fault musically any of the performances on this disc, but Sequenza 9.3 in Le Balcon are particularly outstanding.
The three remaining works are all for cello and piano. It sounds harsh perhaps, but there is way too much breathing going on by the Trio Hoboken cellist Eric Picard during the Berceuse, where he sounds as if he is fighting for breath. A shame, because it is a gorgeous little French Elgarian piece. Unfortunately there is more of this to come in the Piano Trio, where the Trio Hoboken violinist is also at it. In the relatively peaceful first and second movements, the stereo inhalations are almost maddening at times - though they are never far away anywhere. This is even more of a pity because the substantial Trio is one of Durosoir's most important works, and ironic because the quality of sound is otherwise superb. Whilst violinists, cellists and violists have every right to inhale and exhale at will, there is surely a way of doing so that avoids this unwelcome noise pollution: listeners should be concentrating on the music, not on noses and handkerchiefs. If the fault lies with engineers who, in their desire to capture every last overtone and pianissimo pluck, place microphones in inappropriate places, then they should be encouraged immediately by record labels or governmental departments of culture - whatever it takes - to go on courses.
Engineers also get it right, as they do in the other four works on this disc, including the final work for cello and piano, the Trilogie: Improvisation, Maïade, Divertissement. Raphaël Merlin is presumably breathing normally as he plays mellifluously and heroically, yet his inhalations are barely and only occasionally audible by comparison. The trade-off in this case is that he sounds slightly remote, but at least the listener can focus entirely on the Durosoir's beautiful music. On the face of things it may seem an extravagance that the soloists recorded the Trilogie on three separate days, but there is some extremely difficult writing to negotiate, particularly in the Divertissement: it is certainly that for listeners, but for players the title is all irony! 

The final work, thoughtfully placed in the programme between the vocal pieces and the works with cello and piano, is the gentle, lightly impressionistic Idylle for a wind quartet consisting of flute, clarinet, horn and bassoon. After the two vocal works, this has the best recording and is nicely played by four members of the Aquilon Quintet. 

The French-English booklet is outstanding - 26 sides per language of detailed, well-written information, poem texts and arty photos, the main attraction being a work-by-work description of Durosoir's music written by his daughter-in-law Georgie, a musicologist at the Sorbonne who has played a significant part in Alpha's publication/resurrection of Durosoir's brilliant music. By way of bonus, the booklet includes a detailed description of the characters in Edouard Manet's painting Le Balcon, which is reproduced on the front cover of the glossy card-based CD case and inside.  


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