Dutilleux: The Centenary Edition

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COMPOSERS: Dutilleux
LABELS: Erato
ALBUM TITLE: Dutilleux: The Centenary Edition
WORKS: Orchestral, vocal, piano, chamber, cello and violin works
PERFORMER: Emmanuel Pahud (flute), Truls Mørk, Mstislav Rostropovich (cello), Anne Queffélec, Geneviève Joy (piano) et al; various orchestras/Charles Munch, Paavo Järvi, Georges Prêtre, Seiji Ozawa et al
CATALOGUE NO: Erato 0825646047987

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A French musical friend recently said that, whereas the recent official response in France to Boulez’s death far outweighed that accorded to Dutilleux’s in 2013, current concert and recording programmes show that artists are now playing Dutilleux rather than Boulez. True or not, this judgment, and this boxed set, do lead one to reflect on the place of these two supreme artists in the music of today.

Two canards need to be exploded. True, Boulez did turn his back on Dutilleux after the premiere of the latter’s First Symphony in 1951, but by 2013 the hatchet was well and truly buried, Boulez sending Dutilleux a charming note wishing him well in his final bout of ill health. And on the related topic of 12-note composition, Dutilleux was already experimenting with elements of this in the late 1940s and went on doing so even if, unlike Boulez, he preferred to incorporate them within a tonal or modal structure, believing that a musical work needed some kind of pitch centre. Listening to this set of most of the works he wanted played, one is lost in admiration for the consistency of his voice over six decades, from the Sarabande et cortège for bassoon and piano of 1942 to the final song cycle Le Temps l’horloge completed in 2008, and for his unmatched ability to combine continual experiment with a love of sound that excluded anything dry or dully academic (he told me that, for him, Shostakovich’s Preludes and Fugues were examples of how not to write for the piano).

The performances here are uniformly excellent, while some must be taken as definitive – not in the sense of saying the last word (Dutilleux was well aware that works have a life of their own over time), rather in indicating directions of travel. A performance like his wife Geneviève’s of the Sonata written for her must be a starting point for any intending performer, not least for her vigour and rhythmic precision – players who slowed down at the ends of phrases found this most gentle of men surprisingly vocal. On the same level, to take just two examples, are Rostropovich’s performance of the Cello Concerto, making that extraordinary sound high on the A string which particularly inspired Dutilleux, and Renée Fleming’s second rendition of Le Temps l’horloge on the night of 7 May 2008: unhappy with her performance first time around, especially of the final ‘Enivrez-vous’, she asked the audience whether they wanted just that song again, or the whole cycle. ‘Tout!’ came the shout. I echo that shout over this wonderful set.

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Roger Nichols