Thierry PÉCOU (b. 1965) Les Liaisons magnétiques (2013) [18:37]
Sextuor (2011) [16:59]
Soleil-Feu (2013) [7:35]
Les Machines désirantes (2008) [17:00]
Salsa d’Élissa (2013) [8:14]
Dominica Reggae (2009) [2:29]
Jonathan Stockhammer (conductor)
rec. 2014, Rolf-Liebermann-Studio, Hamburg (Les Liaisons magnétiques and Sextuor) and March 2015, Arsenal de Metz AEON AECD1546 [70:54]
Thierry Pécou’s dream has long been to ‘make the whole world resonate’, and his focus has been on “looking for a way to restore music to its dimension as ritual.” This has meant going beyond more recognisable avant-garde or post-modernist Western avenues and seeking where the cults of Afro-American ritual might form a catalyst for personal expression, or examining the influences of the Far East such as from Chinese or Tibetan cultures. In the end, what you hear might arguably have gone out and back, filtering all of these influences but re-entering the same predominantly European avant-garde/post-modernist world the booklet notes claim he has avoided.
Les Liaisons magnétiques is dedicated to the memory of Henri Dutilleux, who died as the piece was being written. There are resonances from the music of the Andes, and the work as a whole has the feel of wide and bleak landscapes blended with interactions of ritual rhythms and gestures that connect to Dutilleux. The ‘magnetic links’ sometimes interact, often diverge, but the interaction of closeness and distance, perhaps life and death, strange beauty and uncompromising ugliness, complexity and an almost banal simplicity and directness can all fit in with or conflict with expectations and the imagination.
With Sextuor for winds and piano, the composer points us towards Balinese and Javanese gamelan music. The harmonic and melodic shapes are immediately recognisable as sharing qualities with these exotic origins, once again blending them with moments that at times reminded me of Messiaen’s birdsong counterpoint, elsewhere creating deep atmosphere, generating intense kinetic energy or indeed some sequences of genuine beauty.
Soleil-feu is for violin and piano, and part of a set of five chamber works for a single instrument plus piano. These refer to an ancient Mexico in which time was seen in cycles out of which the world was created in a kind of ‘trial and error’ sequence of events. ‘Sun-fire’ references a creation narrative in which destruction by a rain of fire is significant. Listening blind I would challenge anyone to come up with such a connection. That said, there is plenty of violence in the piano part, as well as descending figures and dialogue in which the violin and piano combine effectively, and “a whole mythological universe, mysterious and disturbing in its ontological pessimism, is thus convoked.”
Les Machines désirantes is described as a concertino for piano and five instruments, the title derived from a quote by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari from their book Anti-Oedipus, considered by Pécou as a “musical book of philosophy” beyond parallel. “Echoing this obscure, disturbing book, which is often quite funny, provocative and anarchistic, this piece means to bring a vitalist eye to our contemporary world and its violent mutations that are often the source of despair and worry.” Urgent stresses and turbulence lie at the heart of much of this music, with sections of dream-like reflection or recollection that remain restless and never hang around for long. The bass clarinet is very well recorded.
Salsa d’Élissa was originally written for clarinet and piano, dated 1998 in the booklet in a chronologically confusing version with saxophone, piano and conga dated 1993. The back of the cover with 2013 is presumably correct for this version. This ‘salsa’ is Cuban in origin, and as you might expect is infused with dance rhythms, the low register of the piano being worked hard early on and elements of ‘son’ style cropping up. This is all great fun, though I’m not sure the conga is entirely necessary.
Dominica Reggae for piano and percussion was written while the composer was in Dominica, and he describes it as “like a musical postcard, evoking the kind of music heard in buses, taxis, shops, hotels, or in the street.” The Jamaican reggae style has been made into something more spiky and up-tempo, but the syncopated feel is well captured in this attractive miniature.
Thierry Pécou’s music from this programme leaves you with a feeling of eclectic influence fused with a lively and inquisitive intellect – one that seeks out not only external sources, but intensely personal and profoundly immersed in explorations of expressive heights and a pure desire to communicate. This is music which can grab you and introduce you to new worlds, or it may strike you as having aspects of intellectual pretension that are hard to shake off. These responses lie with the listener, and only the responsibility of the composer in this regard is with the ways in which they explain their pieces. The initial booklet note by Dionysios Dervis-Bournais exclaims that “you’re in the wrong place … if you think you’re going to find the ordinary note, with information about the composer, the work, the style, the context or who knows what else?” Aside from some unfortunate posturing this text does in fact provide some interesting context, and the composer’s own comments on the individual works helpfully orient us as to his intentions. After that, you’re on your own. You may find yourself in love with Pécou’s art, but not without putting in a fair bit of effort of your own.