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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 2, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 36
When 'musical adventure' is no longer a cliché
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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When 'musical adventure' is no longer a cliché

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

DUTILLEUX VOL. 3
SEATTLE SYMPHONY
LUDOVIC MORLOT
CD


One of the joys of modern recording media is, of course, the ability to listen as many times as you wish to works that grab your interest, but which are perhaps not easily grasped on one concert hall exposure. One of the joys of having the privilege of commenting in the press about recordings of such works is that the job forces one to take the time for such repeated auditions in order to speak of them with any real familiarity.

Such is especially the case with a fabulous new release by Seattle Symphony Media of four works by the recently deceased composer Henri Dutilleux at age 97. If I had heard these pieces in Benaroya Hall, I would certainly have been pleased at hearing such brilliant music. So full of life with such ear-cleansing orchestration, these sounds would have fascinated me. But that's not the same thing as beginning to hear and understand the musical language behind such entertaining noises.

I have now listened repeatedly to 'Sur le même accord,' a 'Nocturne for Violin and Orchestra' and have come to love it, after initially merely admiring it. If a work merits learning its language, one's appreciation can only grow as its glories are revealed. (As an avid plantaholic, I can attest to the same experience as I get to know more and more varieties of each kind of plant.) In this case, the gorgeous playing of violinist Augustin Hadelich, so perfectly meshed with the wondrous sounds coming from the Seattle Symphony, guide the listener on a true adventure in sounds, all built on the same chord. Hadelich opens the ten-minute piece by playing that chord, not with the bow but by plucking the notes on the 1723 'Ex-Kiesewetter' Stradivari violin he uses. As one gets over being wowed by the sounds themselves, the music reveals joy, humor, dark contrasts and surprising moods. The absence of what most people would call melody clears the way to sitting back and just taking in the mind-boggling variety of orchestral sounds. The precise coordination between soloist and the complex orchestra reveals lots of effective rehearsal. I cannot imagine a better performance.

The same can be said for 'Les citations,' the second piece on this CD. At a little more than 15 minutes, this two-part work for oboe, harpsichord, double bass and percussion shows what Dutilleux could do with more limited forces. The results are, if anything, more surprising than his works for full orchestra! Especially amazing are the sounds of the harpsichord combined with the bass. The soloists each get their turn to shine, but it is their sounds in various combinations that astound the ear. According to the excellent and very helpful program notes by Paul Schiavo, the work includes quotes (thus the title 'citations') from the French composer Jehan Alain, Renaissance composer Clément Janequin, and Benjamin Britten's opera Peter Grimes, but I confess I haven't been able to pick them out. Such are the things repeated listenings will reveal!

The remaining two works, 'Mystère de l'instant' and 'Timbres, espace, ouvement (ou 'La nuit etoile')' are no less fascinating. Written for full orchestra, plus a cimbalom in the first of these, they provide an endless exploration of fun and adventure while not avoiding brief darker bits. The work referring to van Gogh's 'The Starry Night' can be evocative of such things. In fact, being able to listen in the complete comfort of one's home, where one can turn out the lights and close one's eyes, makes the sonic journey all the more vivid. While each of us will experience different 'trips,' I can guarantee you won't be bored.

All of this is especially enhanced by the superb engineering of Dmitriy and Alexander Lipay, the Seattle Symphony's in-house recording specialists. Because I am an audiophile snob, I should mention that the sounds are captured with remarkable clarity and 'space' between the instruments, even if there is no attempt to exactly re-create the sound space of what one hears in the concert hall. In fact, no one in Benaroya Hall would hear these instruments and their magical combinations as well as one can in this recording. Excellent work.

It goes without saying that we owe these gems to Music Director Ludovic Morlot. His choices of modern composers to introduce in Seattle have been almost without fail of the greatest interest and musical rewards. I love to quote one of my colleagues at The Stranger, who wrote, 'Ludovic Morlot has banished boredom from Seattle Symphony,' with all that that implies about the previous Music Director!



Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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