Henri Dutilleux: D’ombre et de silence

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Dutilleux
WORKS: Petit air à dormir debout; Sonate; Prélude en berceuse from Au gré des ondes; Improvisation from Au gré des ondes; Blackbird; Tous les chemins…mènent à Rome; Résonances; Figures de résonances pour deux pianos*; Mini-prélude en éventail; Préludes; Bergerie; Au gré des ondes
PERFORMER: Robert Levin, *Ya-Fei Chuang (piano)


Dutilleux’s muscular, majestic Sonata stands apart in his piano music, the remainder of which is either ephemeral or educational, or devoted to exploring the instrument’s atmospheric possibilities.

Robert Levin gives a powerful rendering of what the composer regards as his Op. 1, testimony to the quality of playing of Dutilleux’s late wife Geneviève Joy to whose memory the whole disc is dedicated and whose interpretations of her husband’s music provide, in Levin’s words, ‘the lodestar to all of us who seek to follow in her footsteps’.

Perhaps the more resonant acoustic of the present disc doesn’t quite allow the startling contrasts between legato and staccato that make her version of the Sonata’s first movement so electric, but Levin fully understands the whole work’s structure and his fingers do all that could be asked of them. 

He is alive, too, to the poetry of the atmospheric pieces and, with Ya-Fei Chuang, gives gripping performances of the four Figures de resonances. I’m glad he has persuaded Dutilleux to let him include Au gré des ondes, six pieces from 1946 written as ‘fillers’ for French radio, which until now have been recorded against the composer’s wishes.


The whole group, with Bergerie of the same year, appears as an appendix – so if track 18 seems unduly delayed, be patient! They are utterly delightful, and the ‘Hommage à Bach’ the most convincing pastiche of JSB I’ve heard. Roger Nichols