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Henri DUTILLEUX (1916-2013)
Le Loup - ballet (1953) [28:12]
Sonatine for flute and piano (1943) [9:23]
Sonate for oboe and piano (1947) [11:10]
Sarabande et Cortège for bassoon and piano (1942) [7:12]
Sonatine, Sonate, Sarabande et Cortège in orchestrations by Kenneth Hesketh
Adam Walker (flute); Juliana Koch (oboe); Jonathan Davies (bassoon)
Sinfonia of London/John Wilson
rec. 6-9 January 2020, Church of St. Augustine, Kilburn, London

Though he was no Webern, Dutilleux was not a prolific composer, even though his life stretched for close to a century. His ‘complete’ works have been recorded in an edition by DG across six CDs. EMI/Erato (Warner)’s edition ran to four and they produced a twofer from the principal orchestral scores.

Chandos also weighed in with a resplendently recorded 4-CD set (CHAN 9853(4)) of the complete orchestral works conducted by Yan Pascal Tortelier during the period 1992-98. The four works here complement that set but with a different orchestra and conductor. As with composers (like Finzi) whose contemporary popularity incites a frustration that more had not been written, we are treated here to works conjured from non-orchestral parts of Dutilleux’s catalogue. In this case we have three modern orchestrations by Kenneth Hesketh of short earlier chamber works. These are the premiere recordings of those orchestrations.

The Flute Sonatine is in a continuous movement of approaching ten minutes but with a distinct pause between the rapturously idyllic first episode and the chipper bird song and sleepy delights of the middle section. The flicker tongued and gambolling ‘final’ stretch is a flight of the bumble-bee but with leisure to reflect on some very Gallic Rousseau-like jungle scenes before ending with an Ibert-like volatile flourish. The Oboe Sonate (in three tracked movements) partakes of a Bach-style calm in the first and final movements, with a bit of Finzi in there too. Dutilleux holds fear at arms-length. Trees seem to reach down reassuringly and embrace the walking pilgrim. The irrepressible Scherzo is marked ‘vif’ and so it is, although this is as much about poetic delight as display. The Sarabande et Cortège, a bassoon work, is here heard in two tracks. It’s the shortlist of these retrievals. The Sarabande is balmy delight; take a bow Mr Hesketh and indeed all the musicians.

Le Loup (The Wolf) is not new to the catalogue. It can be heard on a disc of Dutilleux rarities (Bis) and is conducted by Prêtre on the EMI set. Chandos treat it to a lushly rich recording (at the hands of sound team Brian Pidgeon, Ralph Couzens and Alex James). It is accorded the sort of de luxe yet crisp treatment we have now come to expect from the best recordings of Ravel’s Ma Mère l’Oye. Dutilleux’s ballet runs to half an hour. It shadows a scenario by Jean Anouilh (1910–1987) and Georges Neveux (1900–1982). Neveux was also the author of “Juliette ou la clé des songes” (1927), the basis of Martinů's opera Julietta (1937) and also provided the basis for the same composer’s Ariane, a “lyric opera” (1958).

Le Loup is in three tracks of transparently recorded and luminously orchestrated music. Tableau one combines a connected series of episodes of Prokofiev-like strutting, softly-breathed and wafting delights, and nightmare shrieks. The second tableau bursts onto the scene with a blend of Respighi and Ravel. The final one gently evokes the waltz - pre-echoes of Ravel and of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. Across the three episodes you have to acclimatise to a very different and more directly tuneful Dutilleux from the core works of his high maturity like Toute un Monde Lointain¸ L’Arbre des Songes and Ainsi la nuit. Such a change of direction is comparable with that made by Frank Bridge in the 1920s.

As so often, I am in a minority of one in having reservations about the otherwise wonderful John Wilson (he strikes me as a latter-day Charles Gerhardt) in the Korngold Symphony. In the case of this Dutilleux CD there are no such reservations. I must now get to hear his Ibert Escales and return to pay more attention to the Korngold.

The front cover of the booklet makes good use of a skilled if disturbingly glum caricature of the composer by Neale Osborne. Another Osborne caricature regaled Chandos’s Storgards’ Nielsen Complete Symphonies.

Is it me but does a disc of 56:23 seem a little slackly packed when others not uncommonly jostle around 80 minutes? I say this at the risk of being condemned for making a grocerly point. Oh well, so be it.

The notes are a great help and are by Caroline Potter. The documentation does not end there. There is also an extended interview between Hesketh and Potter.

Limpid, beguiling music and music-making.

Rob Barnett

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