This CD is a collection of Dutilleux’s early chamber works with piano, missing only the Choral, cadence et fugato of 1950 for trombone and piano. There is a recording, entitled Pages de Jeunesse, on the Indesens label that contains all of these works, including the Piano Sonata. The trombone piece would easily have fitted on the disc under review. Interestingly, Dutilleux disowned all of the compositions with the exception of the Piano Sonata as too derivative to have merit. He considered his Piano Sonata, which he composed for his then new wife, Geneviève Joy, as his Op. 1. She recorded the work in 1988 and that must surely be counted authoritative, though I have not heard her recording.
What we begin with are basically three wind sonatas with piano, all rather brief and giving little hint of the great composer to come. They are basically exam pieces Dutilleux composed for the Paris Conservatoire. Still, according to the musicians performing them here, they are all staples of the chamber music repertoire for the particular instruments. Indeed, there a number of recordings available of each of them, usually in combination with works for the solo instruments by other composers, French and from other nations.
The earliest, Sarabande et cortège, is very pleasant and even memorable. It shows a strong influence of Fauré and Ravel also reminding me at times of Poulenc and Frank Martin. The cortège with its march rhythm evokes Prokofiev and even has a bit of Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice about it. Later in the movement, what sounds like Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand makes a brief appearance. Francesco Bossone and Akanè Makita do the work proud, playing with real character and in excellent balance with each other. The Flute Sonatina is also nice work that if I didn’t know better would think was by Francaix or Poulenc. Such renowned flautists as Sharon Bezaly with pianist Ronald Brautigam (BIS) and Patrick Gallois with Lydia Wong (Naxos) have recorded it in collections of other flute music. Andrea Oliva and Makita here are fully equal to these colleagues. In fact, I prefer Oliva’s warmer tone to Bezaly’s brightness that can be strident at times. The Oboe Sonata is bigger, more purely virtuosic than the other two. I did not find as much musical interest in it as in the bassoon and flute works, but it showcases the oboe well. While Francesco Di Rosa obviously has the technique to do it justice, I find his tone variable and at times on the squawky side. Here I prefer Lee Yuen-Jeong (Stomp Music) or Katsuya Watanabe (Profil), both of whom produce a more pleasant sound at least to these ears. Yet all three can become shrill when playing the high, loud notes that Dutilleux wrote for them. This is not the soloists’ fault, but that of the high register in which the composer placed the notes.
Nearly half of the disc is taken up by the most ambitious of the works on this CD, the Piano Sonata. Stylistically and harmonically it is more advanced than the earlier compositions. Even though it does not sound much like later Dutilleux, it demonstrates the direction in which he was heading. It is a big, attractive work. In addition to Joy, such pianists as Anne Queffelec (Virgin Classics) and John Chen (Naxos) have made fine recordings of it. Makita can hold her own in this company. The first movement, marked Allegro con moto, begins with a Ravelian blues-like theme before becoming dramatic and dissonant. Makita excels in both the Romantic and Expressionist elements. The second movement, entitled, Lied, is in complete contrast with its dreamlike nature and Makita captures this well. She can be powerful when necessary, as in the first and last movements, but also sensitive to the more subdued passages in the second movement. She makes judicious use of the sustaining pedal. The third movement is a theme and variations on a chorale that, with its heavy, pounding chords, reminds one of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. It then takes off with a toccata-like section requiring much virtuosity. Here I was again reminded of Prokofiev. The movement is built well and sustains interest in its variety.
If you are interested in these early Dutilleux works, you may want to investigate the Indesens disc that also contains the trombone piece. Otherwise, the performances here should provide satisfaction, especially at budget price. Just don’t expect the mature Dutilleux.
In the CD booklet, Valentina Lo Surdo has provided a rather chatty note on the composer and these works. You will find detailed bios on the artists as well.