Les Dissonances - Tenth Anniversary
David Grimal (violin)
rec. live 2010–2015, Opéra de Dijon and Philharmonie de Paris – Cité de la musique
DISSONANCES RECORDS LD007/8 [8 CDs: 512:13]
Les Dissonances founded in 2004 by the French violinist David Grimal, is made up of international soloists, musicians from prestigious orchestras and some of the other best young talent around. It takes its name from Mozart’s Dissonance Quartet K465 and, as the booklet notes state, it also symbolises ‘… a constructive divergence from conventional thinking’. The two boxes bear testimony to the ensemble’s wide-ranging repertoire from Mozart and Beethoven to Bernstein and Schnittke. With no conductor, David Grimal leads from the first desk. The group’s size is dependent on the requirements of the repertoire being performed. Since 2008 Les Dissonances have been in residence at L'Opéra de Dijon. In December 2013 it launched its own label. The two boxes, which take the form of hardback books with slip cases, have been released to celebrate the orchestra’s ten year anniversary.
Beethoven is represented by Symphonies 2, 3, 4, 5, 7 and 8, with David Grimal taking centre-stage in the Violin Concerto. Although performed on modern instruments, the tempi of the symphonies are brisk and similar to those found in period instrument collections. Textures are transparent, ensemble is flawless, and this lean approach I find extremely attractive. Sound quality throughout is second-to-none, with the sympathetic acoustic of the venue conferring a sense of space, warmth and just the right amount of resonance.
The Second Symphony is exceptionally fine. In the first movement the Adagio introduction ushers in an Allegro con brio with plenty of energy and a purposeful sense of direction. The first movement of the Eroica is fleet of foot and doesn’t hang around. It’s an intoxicating blend of emotional tension and feverish intensity. The Marcia funebre isn’t over-laden; the orchestral textures are kept light, without dispensing with the overall dignity of the music. The Symphony No. 5 is a life-affirming reading. The opening movement has rhythmic punch and drive, and makes a striking impact. In the Andante con moto which follows, the lyrical phrases are moulded with eloquence and innate sensitivity. Attention to detail is a winning factor with rich cello lines and diaphanous woodwind figures sharply delineated. When the brass enter, they confer nobility and grandeur. The triumphal finale is exhilarating on all counts, and I’m pleased they give us the exposition repeat. David Grimal is the soloist in the Violin Concerto, which surely must be one of the highlights of the set. From the opening timpani strikes, the tempo set seems comfortable and instinctively right. The tutti paints the landscape for what is to follow. This is a compelling vision. Grimal’s flawless intonation, purity of tone and sensitive application of vibrato in the achievement of tonal colour all add to the success of the performance. The slow movement overflows with fervent lyricism and the rhythmically buoyant finale has an infectious sparkle; you sense a real joy in the music-making. My only reservation is Brice Pauset’s cadenza, written especially for Grimal, which includes a piano part – I can’t quite make my mind up about it.
Alexandre Gattet steps up to the mark in delivering a sprightly and stylish reading of Mozart’s Oboe Concerto, K314. The affability and exuberance of the score is captured to good effect. In the slow movement, Gattet moulds the line with operatic lyricism. Mozart’s Serenade No.10 in B-flat major, K361 Gran Partita is scored for pairs of oboes, clarinets, basset horns and bassoons with four horns and double bass. It is an excellent vehicle for showcasing the highly distinctive wind section of this illustrious ensemble. The excellent balance achieved by the recording engineers ensures that all the players are clearly defined. The performance also emphasizes the sonorities and colours of the various instruments. The outdoor character of the music has a light-hearted demeanour, and the reading is suffused with Viennese charm. I’m afraid the Schubert Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D759 Unfinished doesn’t work for me. The second movement Andante con moto sounds rushed and petulant. It runs to 7:58, shaving nearly four minutes off two of my favourite versions – Harnoncourt (Teldec) [11:28] and Minkowski (Naive) [11:13].
Box 2 is devoted to 20th century repertoire. Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony in C minor, Op.110a is an arrangement of his String Quartet No. 8, Op. 110 by Rudolf Barshai. The performance is rife with detail, and the imaginative orchestration is sensitively sculpted. I‘m particularly drawn the elegiac final Largo where all hope seems lost and all is emptiness. Audacity is the name of the game in the rhythmically resolute opening measures of the first movement of Bartók’s Divertimento for Strings. In the molto adagio the dark, sinister atmosphere has a sense of foreboding, with a restless undercurrent of tension and suspense creating a feeling of menace. Everything is assuaged in the upbeat finale which swaggers with energy and coruscating dance-like rhythms. The Schoenberg Chamber Symphonies are two of the most well-argued accounts I’ve ever heard. The First, a one movement work, has passion and fervour, and the orchestra offer a febrile account of burning intensity. The Second, in two movements, I’ve never found as attractive. Nevertheless, Les Dissonances bring imagination and brooding sobriety to the first movement and high octane rhetoric to the second. Grimal once again takes the solo part in the Serenade after Plato’s Symposium, one of Bernstein’s finest scores. His technically dazzling performance probes the very essence of the work, and the traversal easily stands side by side with some of the finest versions in the catalogue including those by Hilary Hahn (also here) and Anne-Sophie Mutter. In Schnittke’s Concerto grosso No.1, David Grimal and Hans-Peter Hofmann take the solo violin roles. There’s an abundance of virtuosity and stylish wit in the performance of this pastiche-like score. Its success is assured by the bringing together of many disparate elements into one cohesive whole. The two violinists' rendition of Schnittke’s Moz-Art ŕ la Haydn, a work new to me, positively brims with humour, a nod to Haydn no doubt.
The elegantly styled boxes/books contain comprehensive notes in French, English and German on the music, and biographical portraits of the soloists. Interspersed throughout are well reproduced photographs of the orchestra. The two boxes can be purchased separately. For those with a little more cash to spare, the label has produced a deluxe edition, where the two books are housed in a sturdy case, which also appears to incorporate a DVD of performances of Brahms’ Four Symphonies. These can be accessed on-line for those opting for the separate box format. Captivating performances, they are well filmed, with varied camera angles, making a compelling visual feast.
These are performances I will return to often: refreshing interpretations, guaranteed to blow the cobwebs away.
BOX 1: BEETHOVEN – SCHUBERT – MOZART
CD 1 [56:23]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No.2 in D major, Op.36 [32:27]
Symphony No.8 in F major, Op.93 [24:00]
CD 2 [75:55]
Symphony No.4 in B-flat major, Op.60 [31:51]
Violin Concerto in D major, Op.61 [44:00]
David Grimal (violin)
CD 3 [77:19]
Symphony No.5 in C minor, Op.67 [35:07]
Symphony No.7 in A major, Op.92 [42:06]
CD 4 [69:33]
Symphony No.3 in E-flat major, Op.55 ‘Eroica’ [47:39]
Franz Peter SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphony No.8 in B minor, D759 ‘Unfinished’ [21:49]
CD 5 [66:56]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)
Oboe Concerto in C major, K314 [19:09]
Alexandre Gattet (oboe)
Serenade No.10 in B-flat major, K361 “Gran Partita” [47:40]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
The Complete Symphonies Live recording
Video bonus online
BOX 2: BARTÓK – SHOSTAKOVICH – SCHOENBERG – BERNSTEIN – SCHNITTKE
CD 1 [49:49]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Chamber Symphony in C minor, Op.110a (arr. Barchaď) [23:03]
Belá BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Divertimento for Strings, Sz.113 [26:41]
CD 2 [42:02]
Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
Kammersinfonie No.1 in E major, Op.9 [20:56]
Kammersinfonie No.2, Op.38 [21:05]
CD 3 [74:16]
Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918-1990)
Serenade after Plato’s Symposium [31:03]
David Grimal (violin)
Alfred SCHNITTKE (1934-1998)
Concerto grosso No.1 [30:46]
David Grimal, Hans-Peter Hofmann (violins)
Moz-Art ŕ la Haydn [12:26]