Thierry PÉCOU (b. 1965)
Orquoy for large orchestra (2012) [19:28]
Changó for three flutes and orchestra (1992-93) [22:50]
Marcha de la humanidad for orchestra (1997-2003) [23:27]
Orchestre National de France/Jonathan Stockhammer
rec. 27-29 November 2013, Salle Liebermann (Opéra Bastille), Paris
WERGO WER73182 [65:44]

Heitor Villa-Lobos, Carlos Chávez and Silvestre Revueltas were amongst those who sought to fuse Latin-American folk elements with European compositional techniques in the early part of the twentieth century. In his music, Thierry Pécou revisits Latin-American influences in the context of modern compositional methods. He grew up in Paris, and attended the Conservatoire there. He has an abiding interest in the nearly extinct Pre-Colombian cultures of Central and South America, with a desire to interpret them from a contemporary perspective. He can claim Caribbean ancestry, and this has put a highly personal focus on his quest. Despite the colonization of the Americas, the spirit of the indigenous cultures could never be fully eradicated, and Pécou’s music is his ‘search for the ruins of a lost culture’. Ritualistic, repetitive structures, powerful physicality and exotic colours all feature in these highly individual and ingeniously scored works. On a visit to Mexico the composer made, one Mexican musical colleague commented to him: "You come from Europe and yet you write music that sounds more Mexican than ours does."

Orquoy for large orchestra was written in 2012 and premiered a year later. Here Pécou is the shaman — a person regarded as having access to, and influence in, the world of good and evil spirits. It's the shaman who persuades the gods to share their melodies. The work begins with a jaunty swagger and a confident spring in its step. Ostinato rhythms, glowing woodwind soundscapes and a varied array of percussive effects add vibrancy and allure to this brilliantly scored showpiece. The composer deftly works up the music, avoiding density and keeping the orchestral textures transparent and defined. Contrasted groups of instruments are highlighted and this further broadens the kaleidoscopic spectrum of sound.

Changó is a concerto for three flutes and orchestra in all but name. On a visit to Havana in 1992 the composer came face to face with the Afro-Cuban Santeria cult. One of their rituals inspired this two-movement score. In the first part Rezó a Elegua the flutes sing out their melodies against a sparse orchestration, with everything sounding intimate and improvised. The effect is of music being created on the wing, with time seeming to stand still. In Cantó a Changó, which follows, Pécou enlists a panoply of percussion including maracas, giuro, hand-bells and congas. The result is a rhythmically charged, brightly etched canvas. The momentum gathers as the music progresses, building up to a potent orgy of frenzy and turmoil.
Avian chatter ushers in Marcha de la humanidad (March of Humanity). Pécou's adroit scoring is vivid and colourful. An element of mystery creeps unobtrusively into the narrative, with the burnished brass making their contribution. The music here becomes quite subdued and sombre. The use of Teponatzli (an Aztec wooden drum), hand bells, gongs and rain sticks greatly augments and enhances the percussion section. Again everything moves to a powerful climax. The march makes its long awaited appearance towards the end.

Jonathan Stockhammer and the Orchestre National de France do a fine job, with virtuosic playing of the highest order. Sound quality and orchestral balance cannot be faulted. This is a most enjoyable release and a terrific sonic spectacle. For those adventurous enough to push the boat out a little, the rewards are immense. I, would now like to explore more of Pécou's exotic sound-world.

Stephen Greenbank

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