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
) 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,
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
theme from the second of Clara Schumann's Three Romances
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
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.