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Henri DUTILLEUX (1916-2013)
Métaboles (1963-64) [17:18]
Violin Concerto, L’arbre des songes (“Tree of Dreams”) (1983-85) [25:18]
Symphony No.2, Le double (1959) [30:19]
Augustin Hadelich (violin)
Seattle Symphony/Ludovic Morlot
rec. live, S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium, Benaroya Hall, Seattle, Washington, 25-28 September (Métaboles), 4 and 7 November (Concerto), 5 and 7 June 2014 (Symphony)
SEATTLE SYMPHONY MEDIA SSM1007 [73:02]

This is the second volume of Ludovic Morlot’s cycle of the orchestral works of Henri Dutilleux, whose centenary is being widely celebrated this year in concerts and on recordings. The disc was released last year in time for the anniversary and the third volume is forthcoming. I found much to praise in the first volume that I reviewed here. Morlot clearly shows affinity for this composer and does not slight the wonderfully bejewelled orchestration. The Seattle Symphony performs outstandingly well for him and the engineers provide state-of-the art sound. That being said, all three of the works here have previously done well on disc and so Morlot has some competition.

Dutilleux composed Métaboles for the Cleveland Orchestra’s 40th anniversary, and that orchestra under George Szell premiered it in January 1965. They then recorded it in what must be the definitive account, but one that I have not heard or that is readily available. Dutilleux conceived Métaboles as a “dream of the mysterious and compelling realm of eternal metamorphosis. The spirit and the form of this music find their origins in an intense contemplation of nature.” The work is in five continuous movements and is in effect a concerto for orchestra. The first movement, Incantatoire, features the woodwinds; the second movement, Linéaire, the strings; the third movement, Obsessionnel, the brass; the fourth movement, Torpide, the percussion; and the last movement, Flamboyant, the whole orchestra, bringing the work to a rousing conclusion. For comparison I listened to Mstislav Rostropovich’s 1982 recording with the Orchestre National de France (Erato) and Jukka-Pekka Saraste’s 1998 account with the Toronto Symphony (Finlandia) and found much to praise in all three, although one has to turn up the volume for Saraste’s lower level recording to make its full effect. Morlot fully matches the others as to orchestral execution and overall interpretation, and exceeds both of them in terms of the recorded sound.

L’arbre des songes is among the greatest violin concertos of the past century and one of Dutilleux’s best-known works. It was commissioned by Isaac Stern, who recorded it with Lorin Maazel and the Orchestre National de France for Sony. There have been a number of recordings since that, which have surpassed Stern in accuracy and expression. Like Métaboles, the Violin Concerto is in multiple movements—in this case four distinct ones with three additional interludes—and performed without breaks. The concerto contains much variety and memorable themes, and is as colorfully orchestrated as anything by Dutilleux. The orchestration includes an important part for cimbalom and much other percussion, such as glockenspiel, vibraphone, piano, celesta, and crotales. The composer even includes a joke in the third movement interlude as the orchestra pretends to “tune up,” punctuated by increasing loud string chords only to be halted by a tam-tam stroke and tinkling percussion. Dutilleux explains the title of the concerto in his preface to the score: “All in all the piece grows somewhat like a tree, for the constant multiplication and renewal of its branches is the lyrical essence of the tree.”

Augustin Hadelich and Morlot have contributed an outstanding account of the concerto. I compared this new performance with two other excellent ones, Pierre Amoyal’s with Charles Dutoit (Decca) and Renaud Capuçon’s with Myung-Whun Chung (EMI) both with French orchestras. As an over-generalization, Amoyal is a bit warmer and Capuçon more brilliant. Hadelich combines the best of both of those artists. While not as spotlighted as either, he makes his presence strongly felt within an ideal balance with the orchestra. For his part Morlot has the Seattle orchestra performing at their very best. Of particular merit is the realization of the lower woodwind and clarinet parts as well as a quite audible cimbalom that is well integrated in the orchestral texture. The woodwinds and trombones in the “tuning up” interlude before the last movement are terrific and Hadelich’s virtuosity is astounding throughout. The violin pizzicatos and runs in the last movement have an immediacy that really captures the drama of the piece. Likewise the slow passage near the end with jazzy brass, high violins, and glockenspiel is extremely striking. As high a regard as I have for both Amoyal/Dutoit and Capuçon/Chung, I’d now have to give Hadelich/Morlot the palm. The awesome recorded sound is a further enhancement.

Dutilleux’s Second Symphony, which was composed to commemorate the Boston Symphony’s 75th anniversary, has also been lucky on disc. The work is unusual in its deployment of a second orchestra, a smaller group of twelve instruments (oboe, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, timpani, harpsichord, celesta, two violins, viola, and cello), which is seated in front of the larger ensemble. At times it plays alone and at others within the larger contingent. Hence the work’s subtitle, Le double. Departing from the four-movement structure of his First Symphony, Dutilleux has cast this symphony in three movements. Like the Violin Concerto, the symphony evokes a dream world in the first two movements, but also the composer’s love of jazz in the finale.

Saraste on the same disc as Métaboles is especially attuned to the jazz elements, while Yan Pascal Tortelier with the BBC Philharmonic on a Chandos CD containing both symphonies leaves a greater impression of the work’s drama and power. Both are valid, but I prefer Tortelier. Morlot has more in common with him than with Saraste. In the first movement Morlot’s orchestra displays superior depth and solidity with wonderful brass, clarinet, and timpani. He then builds up quite a head of steam in the second movement, Andantino sostenuto, with tremendous bass, though the harpsichord perhaps has greater presence on Tortelier’s recording. The winds and brass excel for Morlot with noteworthy muted trumpet and bassoon passages. The same goes for the finale, which begins with a segment for brass and percussion that could have come straight out of Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie. Tortelier also nails this music with expressive trumpets and horns. Morlot is no less powerful, but he swings more in the manner of Saraste. Again Seattle’s woodwinds are outstanding, and the timpani and harpsichord are very tangible. The measures before the climax in the latter part of the movement are overwhelming, but the blues-tinged final chord is played so softly as to almost disappear. Paul Schiavo in his booklet note describes this ending as magically evaporating. It certainly does that here, but one cannot really hear the composition of the chord that is so audible with Tortelier. In every other way Morlot is equal to his fellow countryman and has arguably the best sound of all. I find it difficult to choose one over the other and thankfully don’t have to.

This second volume of Dutilleux clearly lives up to my expectations from the first volume and I look forward to hearing the third installment as soon as it becomes available. In the meantime, do not hesitate to add this to your collection if you have the slightest interest in the music of Henri Dutilleux.

Leslie Wright






 




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