Henri DUTILLEUX (1916-2013)
Trois Strophes sur le nom de Sacher [8:50]
Tout un monde lointain [27:56]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Sonata for cello and piano [10:40]
Emmanuelle Bertrand (cello)
Pascal Moyel (piano) (Sonata)
Lucerne Symphony Orchestra/James Gaffigan (Tout un monde lointain)
rec. Teldex Studio, Berlin, December 2014 (Trois Strophes and Sonata), Kultur- und Kongresszentrum de Lucerne, November 2014 (Tout un monde lointain)
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC902209 [47:42]

Henri Dutilleux's work has been gaining attention through a number of significant recent recordings. Esa-Pekka Salonen recorded his Correspondances with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, and Ludovic Morlot has recorded both his symphonies, as well as other works, as the new conductor of the Seattle Symphony (review ~ review). This opportunity to experience and appraise his work casts him as among the most significant French composers of the late twentieth century.

Trois Strophes sur le nom de Sacher (Three Strophes or Stanzas on the name Sacher) is one of several works Dutilleux wrote in appreciation of Paul Sacher, who helped the composer not only through commissions, but also through funding a corneal graft operation to restore his sight damaged through shingles. The set of notes E flat, A, C, B, E, D render Sacher's name, if one creatively mixes French and German nomenclature. Trois Strophes is for solo cello. It is a rewarding work, but an uneasy one: skittering, volatile and brooding under the surface.

Dutilleux met Sacher through the mediation of Mstislav Rostropovich. The cellist had commissioned and premiered the concertante work Tout un monde lointain (A whole distant world). It has received recordings by Rostropovich, as well as Marc Coppey, Lynn Harrell (also here), Xavier Phillips, Arto Noras, Truls Mørk and Anssi Karttunen. Along with the title, each of the five movements is inspired, and the scores headed by, quotations from Baudelaire's poetry. These poems are reproduced in full, though only in French, in the booklet; giving, at least to Francophone readers, a sense of the Symbolist cultural world in which Dutilleux worked and created this piece.

In the first movement, "Enigma", sound of cymbals and the cello emerge from the depths of the night - as the composer says, "like glow-worms in a nocturnal landscape". Things get more energetic, with the cello and orchestra more in chamber-music dialogue than in concerto opposition. The second movement, "Gaze", starts stately and continues with measured, constrained intensity. The third, "Surges", does indeed display the restlessness of an active seascape in its volatile rhythms and orchestral emphases. "Mirrors" starts with harp and marimba, which welcome the cello, resulting in a three-way conversation. With "Hymn" the whole orchestra, including percussion, erupt back onto the scene. For the first time in this work the cello sounds like a concerto instrument, asserting its theme against orchestral happenings before they finish in quiet resignation.

Debussy's Sonata for Cello and Piano is included between the two Dutilleux works. It is suffused both by the perfume associated with French chamber music, and with a rhythmic energy that speaks of conversation with jazz influences. It is worthily performed by Bertrand and pianist Pascal Amoyel. Its inclusion is apt in that Debussy was a lifelong influence on Dutilleux.

Emmanuelle Bertrand is the cello soloist in all three works. She and Harmonia Mundi are to be congratulated for keeping the music and its composers front and centre, while as performer remaining a humble, faithful servant to that music. No soloist-name in blazing large-type on the CD cover, as would be the case so often.

Dutilleux envisioned himself as continuing in the tradition of Debussy but with his own voice. The evidence of this recording is that that assessment is fair, and that will give you a good sense of whether the effort might appeal to you. Both the music and the performances are worthy of attention.

Brian Burtt


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