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Henri POUSSEUR (1929-2009)
Litanie du miel matinel for flute (1984) [8.41]
Éclipticare ou Périples constellés (2001) Version 1 [4.04] version 2 [4.04]
Flexions 1 for flute (1979) [3.28]
Scambi for electronics (1957) [6.35]
Vers l’ile du mont pourpe for flute (1984) [8.02]
Zeus joueur de flûtes, Célébrant les dix octainnes d’Orphee étoilé (2006) for flute, tape and live electronics (written in collaboration with Roberto Fabbriciani) [28.00]
Litanie du meil vesperal (1984) for bass flute [8.55]
Roberto Fabbriciani (flutes)
Alvise Vidolin (live electronics)
rec. 2014, Florence
MODE 318 [72.06]

The Belgium composer Henri Pousseur was one of the leading avant garde figures of the so-called ‘1925 generation’ alongside Boulez, Berio and Stockhausen and like them he saw mixing electronics with conventional acoustic instruments a new way forward for his time.

Perhaps one should start with the earliest work on this disc, dating from 1957 that is Scambi which is purely electronic. We have the composer’s own notes on its realisation and background in the booklet in which he admits that he started with ‘white noise’ to which he added ‘aleatoric impulses’ and ‘modulations concerning speed’ there is also a “degree of reverberation”. At the time this was excitingly new but hearing it now it sounded to me, as one who had composed similarly in the 70’s, as crude and formless.

Pascal Decroupet mentions, in his extended essay, Pousseur’s use of ‘open form’. This mainly was a way in which, for performers, the score was open to “further elaboration”, a technique that led to further aleatoric scores which you might associate with Lutoslawski for example.

The earliest of the flute pieces is Flexions I, is one of a set, this for unaccompanied flute. In truth it took me longer to read and understand the explanation of the work’s construction than it did to listen to it. It was composed as a test piece for the Conservatoire in Liège and, as a flautist of sorts myself, I see it as in the same family as ‘Syrinx’ of Debussy and ‘Density 21.5’ of Varèse.

However the pieces Litanie du miel matinel and Litanie du miel vesperal are much more fun (‘Litany of morning and Litany of evening honey’?). It is the same work, first for the normal, treble clef flute (matinel) and then for bass flute (vesperal) and it’s the case of ‘spot the quote’. In amongst its madcap non-stop virtuosity you might hear fragments from Eastern European Dance music, Grieg’s ‘Peer Gynt’, ‘The Rite of Spring’ and a Japanese traditional melody.

Likewise Éclipticare ou les Périples constellés is presented here in two versions one for three flutes and one for three bass flutes. Its subtitle says enigmatically ‘for one, two or three instruments, surrounded or not, each of a ‘consort”. The piece has different “reading paths” path, loop and star. I’m sorry but I can’t tell which version follows which path and having read Decroupet’s comments several times I still don’t really comprehend what ‘periodicity’ actually is! And although I speak French quite fluently I can't give you a satisfactory translation of the title. Anyway there is far too much technical language exerted on this piece, which has, I feel little to say.

Vers l’ile du mont pourpre consists of two movements of precisely the same length. My translation ‘Towards the island of the purple mountain’ (?) shows it to be poetical as opposed to descriptive. Although the second section does seem to occasionally use the pentatonic scale. But I will quote the notes. ”The first movement opens harmonically from a minor second towards the tritone, the second movement evolves according to an arch-form, ending anew with initial chromatic harmony”.

And that leads us nicely into the last work, the longest on the disc which combines so many of elements already touched upon Zeus jouer de flûtes, Célébrant les dix octannies d’Orphée etoilé, for flute, tape and electronics. The title is a quotation from the novelist Michel Butor. It seems that Pousseur provided the tape, extracted from a work from 1972 and a “plan of action” which indicated time spans and the choice of instrument/tessitura but the elaboration and other details were left to Roberto Fabbriciani who, as you can see has been the inspiration and guide behind all of these works. Pousseur had worked like this before in the “open” pieces mentioned above. It’s an intriguing work if rather long. It seems to me that it takes exactly nine minutes for the flute to enter and a further nine before a deep bass pedal is introduced. One way I might describe these sounds is that it reminded me of a walk I had through an Amazon jungle several years ago with so many animal noises yet such a deep silence despite an undercurrent of noise. It also might seem as if Zeus, especially in the last minutes, is finally able to try out certain sounds on the flute after searching for a method of speaking for much of its course.

As mentioned above, the notes by Decroupet take some grasping even after reading through several times. The composer’s note on Scambi is a model of precision. Roberto Fabbriciani, pictured with the composer, is an extraordinarily devoted exponent and believer in these pieces and the whole enterprise is highly skilled in its presentation and recorded balance. But as a student in the 70’s I found Pousseur’s music intimidating and that feeling has not evaporated as a result of hearing this CD.
Gary Higginson

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