With record labels trawling their back catalogues and box sets appearing from all quarters there has never been a better time to acquire and explore major works by composers from all periods in music.
When Henri Dutilleux died in 2013 France and the entire musical community said farewell to one of the most distinctive and distinguished names in contemporary music. Dutilleux occupied a different space to others such as Messiaen or Boulez. His expressive world is more reflective than exhibitionist, driven by the subtleties of time and memory rather than religious fervour or novel sonorities. This is not to say his music is overtly introverted or uncommunicative - quite the reverse in many cases, but the musical lines drawn through Dutilleux can be traced more through impressionism than the avant-garde.
This retrospective release is an extension of a set from Erato released in 1996, the first three discs being a direct re-release of the recordings from that collection. The Shadows of Time originally came out in 1998, Seiji Ozawa’s live recording here reckoned much better than that of Michel Plasson on EMI (see review) by Leslie Wright. Tout un monde lointain competes with Mstislav Rostropovich on EMI (see review), Marc Coppey on Aeon (see review), and more recently Anssi Karttunen on Deutsche Grammophon (see review), a release which also gives a very good account of The Shadows of Time. There are inevitably numerous challengers to the performances and recordings in this Erato/Warner Classics set, but as previously mentioned, if you don’t know the music of Henri Dutilleux and are wondering if this is a one-stop introduction worth having then yes, you won’t go far wrong here.
The two symphonies are good places to start, with the composer’s voice mature but still incorporating elements of Messiaen and others into his substantial Symphony No. 1. This is a marvellous work, superbly orchestrated and a real treat for those of us who appreciate the likes of Frank Martin. There is a Hollywood sheen and richness to the first symphony which is less apparent in the Symphony No. 2. This introduces a harpsichord to the sound, giving it sparkle and adding a touch of extra chamber-music concerto-grosso intimacy to some passages. The touches of Stravinsky in the central Andante sostenuto having something of The Rake’s Progress graveyard scene about them.
CD 2 is a nicely representative mix of very fine works, starting with the 10 ‘snapshots’ of Mystère de l’instant which explores the intriguing combination of 24 strings, cimbalom and percussion. The strings here could be more disciplined but, conducted by dedicatee Paul Sacher, this version remains a bit special. Métaboles is one of Dutilleux’s seminal pieces, written as a concerto for orchestra, showcasing George Szell’s Cleveland Orchestra with its spectacular winds and brass. The remarkable fourth movement was one of the composer’s own favourites. Timbres, Espace, Mouvement relates to the “almost cosmic vibration” created in Van Gogh’s nocturnal skies.
Chamber music is the order of the day with CD 3, with a cracking performance of the piano Sonate, and the composer also appearing as performer in the two piano Figures de resonances. There are inevitable comparisons to be made with Messiaen here, and if you like the latter then Dutilleux’s atmospheric pianistic world will also attract. The fragmentary but impassioned Ainsi la nuit for string quartet is another highlight, sensitively and dynamically played by Quatuor sine nomine. Dutilleux accompanies Gilles Cachemaille in the 2 Sonnets de Jean Cassou, the impact and colours in the music justifying a later orchestral version. Dawn Upshaw is sublime in San Francisco Night, written in memory of Francis Poulenc.
CD 4 brings back a highly recommendable version of The Shadows of Time, though the drier acoustic means this recording has been overtaken by the DG release mentioned previously. This work is however played here live by its dedicatees so this recording will always hold a historical place and keep its value against all comers. The work is a powerful and moving memorial to Anne Frank and all victims of the holocaust, both chilling and affectionate, the children’s voices, “tous les enfants du monde, innocents” of the third movement emerging as heartrending shades from ‘the march of time’. Tout un monde lointain is Dutilleux’s well-known cello concerto, a masterpiece written for Mstislav Rostropovich and given a performance here acknowledged as one of the best on record. With playing this skilful and committed from all concerned there can be no complaints.
For fans and newcomers this is an excellent collection of music by a composer we should all know and recognise as one of the leading names of the 20th century. At a bargain re-release price with good booklet notes by Roger Nichols and nicely presented with fully documented card sleeves and a slim box, this is one of music’s gifts to us all.
CD 1 [58:23
Symphony No. 1 (1950-51) [30:04]
Symphony No. 2 “Le Double” (1959) [28:16]
Orchestre de Paris/Daniel Barenboim, rec. January and February 1987, Salle Pleyel.
CD 2 [58:40]
Mystère De L’Instant (1989) [15:09]
Métaboles (1964) [15:54]
Timbres, Espace, Mouvement (1978) [15:00]
Les Citations (1985/1991/2010) [12:35]
Collegium Musicum Zurich/Paul Sacher (Mystère de l’instant), Orchestre National de France/Rostropovich and Maurice Bourgue (oboe), Huguette Dreyfus (harpsichord), Bernard Cazauran (double bass), Bernard Balet (percussion) (Les Citations), rec. July 1982 (Métaboles, Timbres, espaces, mouvement), September 1990 (Mystère de l’instant) and October 1992 (Les Citations)
CD 3 [80:08]
Sonate (1947-48) [23:02]
Figures De Résonances (1970) [6:45]
3 Préludes (1973-1988) [13:04]
3 Strophes Sur Le nom De Sacher (1978) [8:49]
String Quartet Ainsi la nuit (1976) [18:44]
2 Sonnets De Jean Cassou (1954) [6:50]
San Francisco Night* (1963) [4:36]
Geneviève Joy (piano), Henri Dutilleux (piano) (Figures du résonances & 2 Sonnets de Jean Cossou), David Geringas (cello), Quatuor sine nomine, Gilles Cachemaille (baritone), Dawn Upshaw (soprano) and Jérôme Ducros (piano) (San Francisco Night), rec. Auditorium des Halles, Paris, November 1993 (2 Sonnets de Jean Cassou), 26 March 1999, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris (San Francisco Night), June 1991 (Ainsi la nuit).
CD 4 [48:43]
The Shadows of Time* (1997) [21:45]
Tout un Monde Lointain (1970) [26:53]
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Seiji Ozawa (The Shadows of Time).
Arto Noras (cello), Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Jukka-Pekka Sarasate, rec. August 1991, Järvenpää Hall (Tout un monde lointain) and live, 13-14 March 1998, Symphony Hall, Boston.