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Michel FOURGON (b. 1968)
Le tracé s'envole (2010) [13:53]
Filigranes (2006) [16:26]
La Brise du Roseau (2004) [17:57]
Cori Spezzati (2001) [17:10]
Jean-Pierre Peuvion (clarinet)
Choeur de chambre de Namur
Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liège/Pascal Rophé
rec. live, 2005-11, Salle Philharmonique, Liège, Belgium; Salle Olivier Messiaen, Paris
CYPRES CYP4641 [65:40]

Born in Liège, Michel Fourgon studied first with his parents and then at the Conservatoire of his home town. Later he tackled composition with Claude Ledoux whose music has been reviewed here. Now in his mid-forties he already has a sizeable output to his credit including instrumental music, chamber and orchestral works as well as an opera first performed in March 2013 in Rouen.

The four works recorded here were all written on commission from the Orchestre Philharmonique de Liège — now known as Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liège. One of them, the concerto for orchestra Filigranes was co-commissioned by the Liège orchestra and by Radio France.

In his insert notes the composer states that the most prominent characteristic of these works — and possibly of other pieces in his output — is the inclusion of allusions to pre-existing material. These are more often than not deeply woven into the music's fabric to the point of being inaudible. They are just part of the composer's music-making and often serve as stimuli for the musical development. I will address this later when discussing each piece.

The earliest work here Cori Spezzati is a good example of Fourgon's working methods although in this case it is probably easier to spot the allusions made. First of all the title ('separated choirs') refers to a technique used in the Renaissance by composers such as Adrian Willaert and Giovanni Gabrieli. The technique was particularly well suited to places such as San Marco in Venice. Fourgon has adapted this to his own needs by having a small ensemble (a string quintet, one bassoon and one contra-bassoon) seated behind the audience. The material on which the work is based is rather diverse: Beata es Virgo (Gabrieli), a work for solo harp by Pierre Bartholomée (Fancy) and a third element, a series of twelve tones chosen at random. All this may seem rather disparate at first but the composer succeeds in making a satisfying and coherent piece of music in which his orchestral flair is displayed to the full. This last feature is common to all four works heard here.

La Brise du Roseau is a concerto for clarinet and orchestra but one in which the soloist is not really confronted with the orchestra. Soloist and orchestra are more partners than competitors but, considering that the piece was composed with Jean-Pierre Peuvion in mind, the solo part is demanding but does not call for pure virtuosity. In this work the basic material is derived from the opening of the Adagio of Mahler's Tenth Symphony and a fragment from an Arab folk-song. Once again, all this 'blends' remarkably well and one never has the feeling of meaningless or superficial eclecticism. The resulting work is a superb clarinet concerto that definitely should be better known and – again – it is to be hoped that this excellent performance will challenge other clarinettists.

Co-commissioned by the Orchestre Philharmonique de Liège and Radio France, Filigranes is a concerto for orchestra in all but the name — although the piece actually bears that subtitle. The work falls into five sections played without break and each section is a reflection – in one way or another – on artists who have exerted some influence on the composer's artistic outlook: Federico Fellini, the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian, the French writers Marcel Proust and Comte de Lautréamont, and the painter Nicolas de Staël (1914–1955). Again, the content is in no way programmatic the more so that the basic material is once again very different: the note row from Nono's Il Canto Sospeso and the theme from the second of Clara Schumann's Three Romances. As might be expected, the work is first and foremost a concerto for orchestra in which instruments and groups of instruments come to the fore and retreat in a continuous dialogue and in which Fourgon's orchestral flair is again fully displayed.

The most recent work here, Le tracé s'envole for chamber chorus and orchestra was composed to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the orchestra. The chorus, however, is regarded as part of the orchestra and its members are seated within the orchestra rather than behind it. This is a setting of fragments from poems by Corinne Hoex suggesting seascapes at various times of the day. Again there is no programme as such; the music rather suggests moods and atmospheres although man is not forgotten since some fragments involve the poetess saying 'I'. Considering the circumstances of the commission, the composer based his musical material on notes that could be derived from the orchestra's name. This very fine work is once again vividly imaginative in its handling of the vocal and orchestral forces involved. By the way, texts and translations are printed in the booklet.

In his insert notes Michel Fourgon emphatically claims his artistic freedom and his refusal to align with all-too-dogmatic diktats. His music, though clearly of our times, does not negate inheritance from the past but all this is woven into a strongly personal musical language that is neither reactionary nor extravagantly modern. Although it may be complex and intricately worked-out, this music communicates straight-away through its sheer expressive strength.

These performances were all recorded live but the audiences fortunately enough succeeded in keeping quiet. Pascal Rophé whose empathy with contemporary music is well known and deservedly admired conducts well prepared and committed readings of these often quite beautiful works. He is wonderfully partnered by the ever-responsive Liège orchestra.

Michel Fourgon is a most endearing composer whose deeply felt, superbly crafted and communicative music deserves more than the occasional hearing; indeed repeated hearings will yield rewards. This disc should appeal to anyone willing to investigate contemporary though accessible music.

Hubert Culot


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