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Richard DUBUGNON (b. 1968)
Arcanes Symphoniques, Op. 30 (excerpts) (2001-02) [13:29]
Triptyque, Op. 23 (1999) [19:03]
Songe Salinas, Op. 36 (2003) [30:01]
Nora Gubisch (mezzo-soprano); Thomas Dolié (baritone)
Orchestre National de France/Laurent Petitgirard
Soloists of the ONF/Debora Waldman; Fabien Gabel
rec. Salle Olivier Messiaen, Radio France, Paris, 5 December 2001; live, 5 April 2008; live, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris, 14 May 2009
NAXOS 8.573687 [62:32]

The bejewelled world of Swiss-French composer Richard Dubugnon recalls a sort of trade-off between the brilliance of Ravel and the lyrical sensibility of Berg. He has not lacked for celebrity premieres: witness Janine Jansen's championing of the Violin Concerto. Dubugnon's chamber music has also been presented on Naxos.

While the composer assures us that the music of Arcanes Symphoniques, portraying the twenty-two major arcana (the trumps in a tarot pack), is not meant to be performed in its entirety I am disappointed that we are given only five of the eighteen orchestral arcana. This phantasmagorical music chimes, shines, shimmers, glows and explodes and is the result of Dubugnon's long engagement with giving expression to "The Tarot of Marseille". His fascination with the Tarot was first set out in 1994 in his Septuor and Horrificques. The fourth movement L'Étoile has affecting 'singing' voices for solo wind instruments. Its effusive lyricism recalls that of Tippett's Triple Concerto. What amounts to a 'musical game' gives voice to the cards in "a large variety of colours, modes, chords, rhythms and instrumental techniques". In an embrace with the aleatory the individual arcana can be ordered differently in each performance. The five major Arcana from "The Tarot de Marseille" are illustrated on the cover of the booklet. If you were wondering about the other four (to make the complement of 22) these appear in the Arcanes Concertants (2006) which is a concerto for organ, percussion and string orchestra, whose movements are fixed.

Triptyque and Songe Salinas are song-cycles with large instrumental groups. Each sets words by Stéphane Héaume (b. 1971). These are included in the booklet although there are no translations into English. Triptyque is emotionally animated. In Ecce Homo Thomas Dolié sings in sweetly dreamy, incantatory style. The orchestra is laid out in three groups configured in a triangular shape. In the central Désert movement Dolié at times declaims the text in the manner of Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex; the virtuoso effect is striking and spills over into the final panel, Le Nain. Other choral voices join in from time to time and the orchestral canvas, which includes a harpsichord, is lapidary. Although for smaller forces, its effect recalls that of Roberto Gerhard's The Plague.

In Songe Salinas the composer's orchestral finery is again in evidence. He speaks of this score lying between Shéhérazade and Salomé. Certainly it is sensuous and it ends with the woman killing Salinas against the backdrop of an orchestra channelling Medea-style operatic fury. The singer is mezzo Nora Gubisch and she brings heft and fantasy to a typically glistening score that affords expression to the fanciful images of Salinas and his unnamed lover. While the techniques and the sound are modern enough this Gallic work links arms across the years with the exotics of Godard, Schmitt and Roussel in a style that draws on Jolivet, Messiaen and Tomasi.

These Radio France recordings will not disappoint. They support Dubugnon's many pages of delicate subtlety as well as his sonic conflagrations. I did not notice any audience noise.

Laurent Petitgirard is the conductor for Arcanes Symphoniques. His own orchestral music has a commanding presence on Naxos (review review) and his Ravel Daphnis et Chloé has only very recently been joined by Slatkin's version on the same label (Naxos 8.573545).

The liner essay is by the composer.

Rob Barnett


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