Le Loup; Flute Sonatine*; Oboe Sonata**; Sarabande et Cortège†
*Adam Walker (flute), **Juliana Koch (oboe), †Jonathan Davies (bassoon); Sinfonia of London/John Wilson
Chandos CHSA 5263 (CD/SACD) 56:23 mins
In January 1953, Paris was hit by a vicious outbreak of flu. One of the few who escaped was Henri Dutilleux, thanks to a substantial consignment of whisky brought from Dublin by his wife Geneviève. Thus inspired, in a mere four weeks this normally slow worker composed the whole of his ballet Le Loup (The Wolf) , commissioned by Roland Petit.
It seems the whisky affected not only quantity but quality; and maybe it also played a part in making this wonderful score one of Geneviève’s favourites among her husband’s works. The 1954 recording of the ballet, conducted by Paul Bonneau, with Jean Anouilh’s narration, remains an irreplaceable document. But technology has moved on in the meantime, and John Wilson seizes on the opportunities to bring out the vivid colours of Dutilleux’s score, with the brass blazing superbly and every rhythm alive with meaning. No less striking is the music’s lyricism, phrased by Wilson with great tenderness – what a shame Dutilleux never wrote an opera!
Dutilleux’s orchestral sound, even if based on French models, is utterly personal and, one might think, inimitable. But no. Kenneth Hesketh, a student of Dutilleux’s, has orchestrated three of the woodwind pieces his teacher wrote for the final recitals at the Paris Conservatoire in the 1940s, and has done a truly remarkable job. I would like to think that in this garb even the Flute Sonatina of 1943, which the composer turned against in later years, would now earn his approval.