Ohana: Four Improvisations; Neumes; Syrtes; Sarc; Noctuaire; Satyres; Kypris

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LABELS: Timpani
WORKS: Four Improvisations; Neumes; Syrtes; Sarc; Noctuaire; Satyres; Kypris
PERFORMER: Étienne Plasman, Markus Brönnimann (flute), Fabrice Mélinon (oboe), Kris Landsverk (viola), Aleksandr Khramouchin (cello), Thierry Gavard (double bass), Pascal Devoyon (piano)
Among French (or in his case partially French) composers the polyglot, prolific and multi-talented Maurice Ohana (1914-92) has never been as well known in this country as his contemporaries Messiaen and Dutilleux. Yet his diverse oeuvre is well worth exploring, and Timpani’s ongoing series of his music has now collected together the chamber music for one or two instruments and for mixed ensemble written between 1961 and 1985 – most of them, as Harry Halbreich’s notes point out, referring obliquely to Classical mythology rather than the composer’s Iberian and North African roots.


Ohana was especially fond of the flute, oboe and cello, and each instrument gets two works to itself. Virtuosic and formidably accomplished, the pieces display a wide range of techniques: the earlier scores within – as I’ve found in other Ohana works – a rather anonymous sense (or rather absence) of personality. But the later ones, such as the lyric Noctuaire for cello and piano (1975) or the stunning Satyres (1976) for flute duo, have a much clearer profile. And best of all is the extraordinary ensemble work Kypris (1985) for the unorthodox line-up of oboe, viola, double bass and piano – powerful, vivid and intensely inventive, a real find. The players (all of them members of the Luxembourg Philharmonic) do a first-rate job with some extremely taxing music, enhanced by a warm, vibrant acoustic. Calum MacDonald