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Henri DUTILLEUX (1916-2013)
Métaboles (1964) [16:47]
Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992)
Les Offrandres oubliées (1931) [10:37]
Un sourire (1989) [9:28]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Daphnis et Chloé, Suite No 2 (1913) [16:32]
Sinfonieorchester Wuppertal/Julia Jones
rec. live, 18 February 2018 (Un Sourire) and 20 January 2019, Historische Stadhalle Wuppertal, Germany
HD-KLASSIK 3D-862101 [54:04]

HD-Klassik is a branch of the Cybele label, which already has a well established reputation for fine recorded sound. This series uses binaural sound which, as the opening calibration track tells us, is intended for headphone use. This is the third in an edition recording a variety of repertoire live in concert with the Wuppertal Symphony Orchestra, volume 1 of which recorded Dohnányi and Brahms (review), and volume 2 of which took in Wagner and Berlioz (review). This orchestra has also recorded Dukas and Holst (review) for HD-Klassik, and the fruitful collaboration seems set to continue.

I almost always use headphones, and so always relish new recordings from this source - especially so with repertoire of this nature. There is modern music here, but it is all of known quality. Dutilleux’s Métaboles was composed to mark the 40th anniversary of the Cleveland Orchestra, and as such it can be seen as a kind of ‘concerto for orchestra’, with no shortage of activity from all instrumental sections. The piece is quite compact, divided into five uninterrupted movements, the material from each being developed from elements of its preceding movement. This technical aspect need not bother us particularly, but its qualities lead to a strong feeling of narrative flow and a clarity that builds through colour and variety of harmony and texture to a satisfying climax. There are hints of Stravinsky, Messiaen and others at some moments, but Dutilleux’s stamp of authority is always compelling.

Talking of Messiaen, we have both early and late periods represented here, but in pieces that also represent a kind of unity of expression. Les Offrandres oubliées or ‘The Forgotten Offerings’ was Messiaen’s first orchestral work, and its main atmosphere is of religious contemplation. There is a central section, ‘sin’, that bursts out unexpectedly with violence and turmoil, but the final ‘Eucharist’ returns us to somber beauty. This is the 22 year-old composer still finding his feet in terms of expressive range, but very much already in command of a distinctive personal language. Un Sourire or ‘A Smile’ was to be one of Messiaen’s last works, written for the 200th anniversary of his favourite composer Mozart’s death. Messiaen’s tribute sees Mozart as a figure “who knew only suffering. And despite it all he always smiled. In music and in his life.” This is a gorgeous work which has the quality of a look back over Messiaen’s career, incorporating birdsong, sublime harmonic progressions and a sheer love of orchestral sonorities.

The programme concludes with Ravel’s ravishing Daphnis et Chloé, Suite No 2. This takes its music from the 1909 ballet score that Ravel was commissioned to write by Sergei Diaghilev for his Ballet russes. A magical sunrise casts its light on an enchanted fairy-tale countryside, Daphnis and Chloé unite in an effusion of love after that famous flute solo, and the suite closes with a ‘feverish bacchanale’.

This is a well-chosen and attractive programme, executed well by the Wuppertal Symphony Orchestra and British conductor Julia Jones. Recorded sound is very fine indeed, accepting that the Historische Stadhalle Wuppertal plus enthusiastic audience can make low drums sound a bit boomy. There is plenty of detail in the orchestral sound, as well as a fine sense of blend to the sonorities where the music has its impressionistic character. Applause is included at the end, though there is little if any extraneous noise during the performance. For all of these pieces one can however point towards recordings that have greater impact. Métaboles with the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse conducted by Michel Plasson on EMI/Warner Classics (review) has more edge and pungency. You can get Les offrandes oubliées and Un sourire on the Naxos label with the Orchestre National de Lyon and Jun Märkl (review) which is more a case of swings and roundabouts - I prefer Julia Jones’s string tone in Un sourire, but Märkl’s birdsong is a little more confident sounding. Daphnis et Chloé just has too much by way of competition, with Lorin Maazel and the Vienna Philharmonic on RCA (review) being just one of many.

Having all of this excellent repertoire together on one disc is an attractive proposition, and its qualities go well with the other volumes from this series. No-one collecting these recordings will be disappointed. For sure, you can shop around for each individual piece in an arguably better performance, but this is much more than just a souvenir of a fine concert, so crack out your good headphones and get yourself immersed.

Dominy Clements

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