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Gérard PESSON (b. 1958)
Carmagnole (2015) [13:03]
Musica Ficta (2002-2017) [3:15]
Ne pas oublier coq rouge dans jour craquelé (moments Proust) (2010) [10:27]
Musica Ficta (2002-2017) [4:40]
Six transformations du menuet K. 355 de Mozart (2008-2011) [11:05]
Neige Bagatelle (2002) [2:48]
Blanc mérité (avec Roman Opalka) (2017) [20:14]
Ensemble Cairn/Guillaume Bourgogne
rec. 2014, Espace de Projection, Ircam-Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (Musica Ficta, Ne pas oublier…, Blanc mérité); 2015, Studio 4:33, Ivry-sur-Seine (Carmagnole); 2017, Studio Sextan, Malakoff (Six transformations…, Neige Bagatelle).
ÆON AECD1649 [66:55]

There are two sets of booklet notes for this fine release. Those by Denis Chouillet are written rather in ‘bs generator’ mode, so thank goodness we also have an extensive commentary by Gérard Pesson himself. Pesson has worked with the musicians of the Cairn ensemble for many years, and Carmagnole, “a kind of joyful, virtuoso toccata” was written with each individual in mind. This is a super start to the programme, with subtly coloured rhythmic pulses and detailed touches of timbre drawing us in with gentle guile. The sounds here include plucked strings both of a guitar and within a piano, Pesson’s penchant for urgent brush-like sounds and unusual percussive sources such as key clicks and the body of the piano giving a sense of atmosphere and mystery to the sheer fun which the musicians are also clearly having. There is a transformation introduced just after five minutes and developed just after six, with more sustained sonorities creating a space of strange beauty. “Carmagnole” represents “a character, the idea of a joyful musical celebration expressing confidence in the future.”

Musica Ficta is “a compendium of pieces for teaching the piano – a collection rather than a method…” These pieces are of varying difficulty, introduce multiple players, and have involved numerous other composers invited by Pesson to contribute. The brief pieces here cover music for the tiny hands of a beginner, to little music-box like vignettes and musical games in which Chopin-esque material is swapped between the hands: indeed a compendium of considerate and inventiveness that stimulates the musical imagination as much as it will technical prowess.

Ne pas oublier coq rouge dans jour craquelé (moments Proust) is a trio for violin, cello and piano whose music draws on structures of written prose extracted from Marcel Proust’s four notebooks. The piece unfolds as six Moments with varying degrees of abstraction and reference. Pesson’s music itself deals in ‘moments’ here, with fragments linking with each other but retaining individual identity. The subtle touch is in evidence throughout, with each note and gesture possessing clarity and importance, even if we’re not quite sure what their significance might be. In the end it doesn’t matter. The salon sonorities of the piano trio are filtered and rendered into something at times enigmatic and at others close and familiar. The strings are often teasing out upper harmonics or flautando sounds, with rhythm and a sense of ongoing time keeping us grounded even when the musicians are speaking a language which takes its own time to comprehend.

Six transformations du menuet K. 355 de Mozart does what it says on the tin, with Pesson extending Mozart’s own “sense of humour and playful temperament” in a fun-filled but respectful selection from an original collection of 27 transformations. Mozart’s identity and music is always present in Pesson’s work, with key and cadence emerging through instrumentation and arrangement which ranges from the pointillist to the witty and absurd, through always with Gallic elegance – these are not Grosz caricatures.

The compact work Neige Bagatelle celebrates the palindromic date of 20-02 2002, and was written as part of a concert programme based on the idea of reversibility. This mirroring of material has long been a part of compositional technique, and Pesson extends this into the instruments involved gradually taking on the role of another.

Blanc mérité is the most substantial work here, the title, meaning ‘Well-Earned White’, is that of a colour made by artist Roman Opalka (1931-2011), who added 1% of white to the background each new canvas so that by the last paintings his closely written numbers in white were barely legible. Blanc mérité is made up of seven parts, though it isn’t always clear where these begin or end. Pesson describes the music as “composed in often rhythmically accentuated periods, with recurrent situations and gestures that are nevertheless constantly and gradually changing… an Opalkian ‘tattoo on the skin of time.’” This is the hardest of the works in this programme to digest, but by this point in the album we’re very much on Pesson’s side, and being tuned-in to his sonic markers an appreciation of the work is not dissipated. This music’s degree of abstraction does however take us further away from tonal points of orientation, the instruments rarely used in conventional ways, and the more extended duration allowing us to drift along with a flow taking us we know not where. This extended sense of anticipation has its own exquisite quality, and Pesson’s rhythmic fingerprint eventually takes us somewhere a little more familiar, the virtuosity of the instrumental playing grabs our admiring attention, and as the whiteness takes over in high pitches a kind of pureness of clarity takes over, spreading retrogressively over our memories of the rest of the work.

All of this is done with supreme and uncompromisingly detailed skill, standing as an emblem for an excellent kind of contemporary music, and equal excellence in performance and recorded sound. If you are looking for refined new sounds that have clarity of vision and don’t always take themselves too seriously, then this is a great place to visit.

Dominy Clements



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