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Hugues DUFOURT (b. 1943)
Lucifer d'après Pollock (2000) [32:50]
Voyage par-delà les fleuves et les monts (2010) [26:54]
Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg/Pierre-André Valade
rec. Philharmonie, Luxembourg, April 2012
TIMPANI 1C1195 [59:52]


Hugues Dufourt's works often carry a title that suggests some extra-musical association, such as literature and painting. Such is the case with his cycle for ensemble Les Hivers (Æon AECD 0209) and the two pieces recorded here.
The title of the substantial Lucifer d'après Pollock is clear enough as to what may have fired the composer's imagination. It is also quite clear that the music does not set out to be programmatic. It rather suggests the impression that one may have when viewing one of Pollock's canvases with splashes of colour spread out in a variety of densities thus creating often abstract networks. Incidentally the insert notes have a black-and-white picture of a Pollock painting without any further explanation. We are not even told whether there exists a painting bearing the title of Lucifer though I would naively think so. This does not really matter because the music powerfully suggests the many mood-changes experienced when looking at a Pollock painting. The music unfolds in an almost endless and seamless series of musical episodes often suggesting the unpredictability displayed in Pollock's visual world. The orchestral textures, like those in Pollock's paintings, constantly vary and move in unpredictable directions although one still has the strong impression of a long voyage through parts of Pollock's imaginative world. It thus needs a master orchestrator to sustain a long time span as this one - the work plays for more than half an hour - and to avoid any sense of monotony. Dufourt handles his large orchestral forces with a remarkable flair for telling gestures and arresting textures fully in tune with Pollock's wildly imaginary landscapes.
Voyage par-delà les fleuves et les monts (“Journey beyond Rivers and Mountains”) is 'based' on a painting by a tenth-century Chinese artist Fan K'uan - supposedly reproduced in the insert notes. Though the music remains mostly abstract, the work as a whole may be nearer to a tone poem of sorts than Lucifer. From this point of view it is closer to Les Chasseurs dans la neige (2001) from the cycle Les Hivers. The music is definitely not descriptive but alludes more overtly to the painting that inspired it. It, however, suggests different elements of the painting such as the imposing rock cliff, its tormented vegetation, the vertiginous waterfall and, in the foreground but almost unnoticed, a caravan of mules. The lay-out of the painting thus creates various layers that find their way into the music without any attempt at overt description. Everything is suggested rather than bluntly exhibited. The result is yet another mightily colourful and strong expressive score.
Dufourt is a composer who is used to working on a large time-span. His viola concerto Le Cyprès blanc of 2004 (review) plays for thirty-three minutes and Le Déluge d'après Poussin of 2001 for forty-two minutes. Anyone may write long and even longish pieces of music but the true master is the one who manages to do so with seemingly inexhaustible imagination, thus avoiding monotony, let alone boredom. Hugues Dufourt clearly belongs among the masters and these two recent works vastly demonstrate his mastery gained over so many long years. The music is complex and must be quite taxing for the performers. It remains strongly expressive so that it is likely to appeal to anyone “with ears to hear” especially when served by such first-class performances as it receives in this superbly engineered and produced release up to Timpani's highest standards.
Devotees of Hugues Dufourt's music will need no further recommendation but many others, I am sure, with open ears and a liking for superbly crafted and strongly expressive contemporary music will find much to relish here.
Hubert Culot