Jolivet: Cinq danses rituelles; Mana; Cosmogonie; Piano Sonata

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LABELS: Koch Schwann
WORKS: Cinq danses rituelles; Mana; Cosmogonie; Piano Sonata
PERFORMER: Christiane Mathé (piano)
Long before his death in 1974 the reputation of André Jolivet had been eclipsed by that of his friend and associate Messiaen. Now his music seems to be undergoing a slow revaluation. In the Thirties the pair were co-founders of the Jeune France movement, vowing to exploit music’s humane qualities against the frivolous or mechanistic neoclassicism then in vogue. They shared interests in Oriental rhythmic structures, in non-Western modes and in the magical and incantatory; they also, as is especially clear in a work like Jolivet’s Cosmogonie, owed a surprising amount to the harmonic ecstasies of Scriabin.


But Jolivet has none of Messiaen’s Catholic mysticism or the sheer lushness of his harmony. One of the few pupils of Edgar Varèse, he found his inspiration in the study of primitive cultures: his music is hard-edged, even at its most lyrical, and often highly percussive. The once-admired Mana Suite (1935), as someone recently remarked to me, is almost the piano work that Varèse never wrote, with its wayward monody and gamelan effects, while the Danses rituelles (1939) anticipate the violent idiom of Messiaen’s Ile de feu études by a decade. The Piano Sonata in memory of Bartók, another percussive master, is more Classical in conception, with an unexpectedly lovely slow movement. Christiane Mathé, who contributes her own perceptive liner-notes, turns in dedicated and illuminating performances. Calum MacDonald