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Henri DUTILLEUX (1916-2013)
Symphony No.2, “Le Double” (1955-59) [27:58]
Timbres, espace, mouvement (ou “La nuit étoilée”) (1976-78, rev.1991) [19:41]
Mystère de l’instant (1989) [14:58]
Françoise Rivalland (cimbalom) (Mystère)
Orchestre National de Lille/Darrell Ang
rec. L’Auditorium de Nouveau Siècle, Lille, France, 2015/16
NAXOS 8.573596

The orchestral music of Henri Dutilleux continues to receive a justifiably large amount of attention on CD. In some ways he has overtaken Messiaen in the exposure he has been receiving of late. I found a lot to like in the Ludovic Morlot’s series with the Seattle Symphony and I am happy that this new disc by Darrell Ang, a young Singaporean conductor new to me, is every bit as good as the Morlot set. It is also different enough in the approach to the music and in the recorded sound to make it a worthy addition to anyone’s Dutilleux collection. John France reviewed this disc with enthusiasm and described the works in some detail, so I will focus on the performances and how they compare with others, especially Morlot’s.

The first thing one notices is the stunning sound and close-up recording that allows you to hear all kinds of detail in the composer’s jewel-like orchestration that could be easily missed in some earlier renditions. This is especially true with the Symphony No. 2. Ang and the Orchestre National de Lille paint the work in primary colours. What they may lack in subtlety, as compared with Morlot or Tortelier, they more than make up in vitality. This is a young man’s performance, full of energy and engagement. I could easily see Leonard Bernstein conducting this kind of performance and that is high praise, indeed. The orchestral playing is impressive throughout the symphony and the very last chord displays its inconclusiveness better than with Morlot or even Tortelier. As Paul Conway points out in his notes to the CD, Dutilleux changed that chord to make it sound “less conclusive and accentuating a feeling of probing into the unknown.” This may well become my favourite version of the symphony.

With Timbres, espace, mouvement power and instrumental clarity again predominate. Morlot is somewhat richer and more refined in the first movement, but Ang’s brasher and more “modern” approach is equally valid. The double basses that begin the second movement, which was added later by Dutilleux, are awesome, and the multi-coloured third movement shows off the orchestra’s kaleidoscopic texture punctuated with mallet percussion. There is an obvious reference to Le sacre du printemps from about the 2:00 mark I had not noticed before, but is telling in this account. After the 4:00 mark comes a rather startling effect sounding like balls being dropped on a snare drum head, reminding me of something Peter Eötvös would do years later in his Speaking Drums percussion concerto. Only the timpani volleys later in the movement are not quite as vivid as Morlot’s on the Seattle recording.

The advantage this account of Mystère de l’instant has over Morlot’s is its being multi-tracked, which allows one to focus on the individual snapshots even though the work plays almost continually with few breaks. Otherwise, it is Morlot who has the palm in my opinion. One can appreciate the percussion and cimbalom a bit more on Morlot’s recording and his strings have an attractive warmth in the “Choral” movement that Ang does not match. I also find Morlot’s glissandi in the “Rumeurs” more effective, as are Paul Sacher’s in his definitive account with the Collegium Musicum on Erato. However, it’s a close run thing and in every other way Ang excels in this work as he does elsewhere. All in all, this new Naxos CD merits a strong recommendation.

Leslie Wright

Previous review: John France



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