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Olivier PENARD (b.1974)
Chroniques for piano Op. 30 [32.54]
String Quartet Polyptych dit “du diamant” Op. 28 [17.24]
Artefact for clarinet, violin, cello and piano Op. 11 [20.35]
Charade for cello and accordion Op. 29 [4.33]
Dana Ciocarlie (piano)
Debussy Quartet
Jean-Marc Fessard (clarinet); Jonas Vitaud (piano); Fabrice Bihan (cello)
Philippe Bourlois (accordion); Fabrice Bihan (cello)
rec. Music School, Velizy-Villacoublay, 5-9 September 2014
DUX 1112 [75.29]

Here is a case, for this listener anyway, of the accompanying ‘blurb’ rather putting me off before I even started. I had not heard of Olivier Penard before this CD dropped onto my doormat so first of all read his biography. We are told that he is an autodidact who ‘is positioned at the crossroads of contemporary creativity” being influenced by “minimalist currents, jazz and film music”. Then we are told that he admires Ravel, Honegger, Dutilleux, John Adams and John Williams. All a bit of a 'dog’s breakfast' you might mean-spiritedly think. Then I started to forget all that and just listened.

I was much taken with the work, which gives the CD its title, that is Chroniques for solo piano. It's a set of seven eclectic piano pieces each with an enchanting descriptive title. The spirit of Debussy surely looks over the composer’s shoulder. The first is ‘Stupeur’ which is in a vague unmetred landscape of impressionistic harmony; the composer writes music without metre again later in the piece. The same feelings also apply to No. 3 Un regard (A look) which is beguiling in its loveliness and then to No. 5 where the music is ‘paralysed’ by a debilitating love and No. 6 Un sourire (A smile). We end with No. 7 a Romance, almost a throw-back to French music of one hundred years ago. In contrast No. 2 Désordres is violent, highly dissonant and virtuoso with fisted note clusters. Eclats is also full of quite unexpected contrasts and moods.

These Chroniques are presented across the CD interspersed among up the other works. This is presumably in the mistaken idea that you might play the whole recording right through without a stop. I tracked the seven pieces to follow each other and if one does that then a sense of the overall shape of the work is more easily grasped. Dana Ciocarlie carries off every aspect of the music perfectly with superb pacing where necessary and wild intensity when needed.

The String Quartet, translated as The Diamond Polyptych, was inspired by an event which took place at the Cistercian abbey where it was composed, resulting in the burial of a diamond ring. It is in four highly original and often intense movements. The first is subtitled Luminous Weddings, an allusion to the couple who were buried with the ring. There is much musical ‘information’ here and the music goes on to be more developed during the ensuing movements. The second is a short Shostakovich-like burlesque, the third, a slow and aching interlude with its slowly rising lines and the fourth subtitled Fruits of the Stars is full of wild and scurrying scales. It's a work to which I will return, I’m sure, and it is played here with marvellous conviction and understanding by the Quatuor Debussy.

Proof of Penard’s love of Dutilleux comes in the shape of the brief Charade for cello and accordion. It amounts to a series of inventions on a theme in the finale of the older master’s First Symphony a work that is quoted by Penard at the end. The accordion came to be used by Dutilleux in his later works and the Cello Concerto of Dutilleux is perhaps his finest work. Penard’s Charade is a witty and clever piece but no more than that.

I much enjoyed Artefact and it's interesting that it starts with a compositional plan, that is to open with an Overture in 'a dry, dissonant sonic world' and to end with an exciting jazz-inspired Rhapsodie. In between there is a fascinating Scherzo-Rondeau, full of uneven rhythms and percussive chords, an Interlude which pays homage to the nocturnal world of Bartók who wrote his Contrasts for violin, clarinet and piano for that great cross-over clarinetist Benny Goodman. The finale is entitled Rhapsody-Jazz. Don’t expect pastiche Brubeck — it’s the syncopations and drive that make this an exciting jazzy movement. I really took to it as I did to almost all of Penard’s music. I can also add that the performances are brilliant and full of energy. The documentation, written by Dominique Hayer, is quite detailed and often quotes the composer.

Gary Higginson



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