Henri Dutilleux's music is highly regarded by performers and audiences alike and is also quite frequently recorded. The real problem with his quantitatively limited output is that any new recording is unlikely to bring anything fresh into the catalogue. Moreover it is often taken for granted that he composed relatively little of importance before what he considered as his Op. 1: the Piano Sonata
of 1948. However during these early years he composed a number of short chamber works at the request of the director of the Paris Conservatoire. These include the ubiquitous Flute Sonatina
(1943) and Oboe Sonata
(1947) as well as two lesser-known pieces for bassoon and trombone respectively. His early vocal output, too, has long been overlooked although it was highly esteemed in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
This centenary release aims to redress the balance by including the first recording ever of the Quatre Mélodies
composed between 1941 and 1943. They made Dutilleux's reputation at that time being taken up by singers such as Charles Panzéra. These songs were originally written for voice and piano but the composer clearly had an orchestral version in mind and this is what we have here. The genesis of the 'set' was a bit complicated. The composer intended to have a fifth song on a poem by Paul Fort but Fort's publisher refused the composer and his own publisher permission to use the poem. Dutilleux replaced it with a new setting of a poem by Anna de Noailles, Regards sur l'infini
. These songs shed new light on Dutilleux's early achievement and already display some of his hallmarks most importantly a subtle response to the words. These songs still belong to what may roughly be considered as the French song tradition. However the composer saw to it that his settings of four rather contrasted texts were as varied as possible. He was quite successful in finding the right manner for each poem. Regards sur l'infini
is appropriately nostalgic whereas Féerie au clair de lune
shows Dutilleux in a somewhat unusual puckish mood and displaying some mild irony in Funérailles de Fantasio
. The real gem of this short set is the deeply moving, though quite simple Pour une amie perdue
Trois Sonnets de Jean Cassou
may be somewhat better known although this is the first recording ever of Eloignez-vous
; the other sonnets have been recorded by Yan Pascal Tortelier in Chandos CHAN 9853. Jean Cassou (aka Jean Noir) was a French resistance fighter who was taken prisoner by the Germans during the Second World War. His 33 Sonnets composés au secret
are all in their own way war poems that have attracted other composers including as Milhaud. Dutilleux described his settings as 'a chant of revolt' also feeling that they needed an orchestra to make their full impact, which they achieve in a most eloquent way. It is also interesting to remember that Dutilleux had already set one of Cassou's sonnets with the title La Geôle
(1944) and it is cause for regret that this was not or could not have been included here.
Many of you, I am sure, remember a recording of the so-called Symphonic Fragments
from the ballet Le Loup
by Georges Prêtre
during the LP era. Since then this recording was re-issued first as part of EMI Classics' L'Esprit français
series and later still as part of a Centenary Edition
recently released by Warner whereas the complete ballet had been recorded, too, on an old Ducretet-Thomson LP; this has also been reissued in that same Centenary Edition (Erato 0825646047987). So it is quite nice to be able to hear this substantial, though still somewhat uncharacteristic score in a fine performance and recording. The ballet was composed for the ballet company of Roland Petit for whom other composers also wrote scores; Henri Sauguet's Les Forains
to mention one that comes to mind. Le Loup
's libretto by Jean Anouilh and Jean Neveux is a variation on the theme of "Beauty and the Beast" in which a young bride falls in love with a wolf which, she has been led to believe, is her husband transformed by an illusionist. The first tableau sets the mood of the ballet. The main theme is sounded immediately after the ominous, growling opening suggestive of the wolf. This main theme, close to some fun-fair music, is varied throughout the ballet. The first tableau is mainly centred on the fun-fair presenting a number of minor characters. From the second tableau onwards the music becomes more troubled, more expressionist even. The music is still indebted to some broad tradition and sometimes looks back to Prokofiev or Stravinsky though avoiding any plagiarism or pastiche. What comes quite clearly through, however, is the composer's assurance and imagination in handling his orchestral forces. In fact his assured handling of symphonic forms had already been made clear in the First Symphony which, with the Piano Sonata
, counts as one of the first milestones of his output. The music of Le Loup
is considerably simpler and more straightforward than that of the more musically mature Dutilleux; that of the Second Symphony and of the late masterpieces. Le Loup
is a substantial work and an important achievement in Dutilleux's early output. As such still deserves to be heard.
Dutilleux composed some four or five film scores and that for Henri Decoin's crime story La Fille du Diable
is the earliest. The excerpts assembled here have not been arranged by the composer but by Pierre Gervasoni if I am not mistaken. Again Dutilleux proves a quite efficient tune-smith and a brilliant mood painter, sometimes aided by the ondes Martenot, an instrument that also features in the Trois Tableaux symphoniques
drawn from incidental music he composed for a stage adaptation of Emily Brontë's novel Wuthering Heights
. The first section (The Heath
) is an atmospheric prelude again much enhanced by the ondes Martenot as is the section entitled La Marche du Destin
. The epilogue rounds off the proceedings in a very satisfying way.
So, this centenary release with many rarities played with much empathy and commitment and superbly recorded is a must for all Dutilleux devotees.
As a footnote I would like to mention yet another Dutilleux rarity: his Chansons de bord
for treble voices (sadly only a few of them) on Radio France FRF 036 with works by Daniel-Lesur (a selection from his Chansons populaires
also for treble voices) and a fine adaptation of Britten's The Golden Vanity Op.78
, the whole impeccably sung by the Maîtrise de Radio France.