DUSAPIN String Quartets Nos 6 & 7
He may have limited presence in UK concert halls but Pascal Dusapin (b1955) continues to be among the most recorded of contemporary composers. These new Aeon releases focus on chamber music, including a follow-up to the Arditti set of his first five string quartets (9/10).
Both the latest instalments were written in 2009, but here similarities end. The Sixth Quartet features orchestra in what is less a concerto concept than an extension of the quartet’s sound world on to a larger expressive canvas, the first movement setting up harmonic and rhythmic premises which its four successors build on in a visceral yet ultimately inconclusive manner, the discourse running down to an uneasy stasis. By contrast, the Seventh Quartet consists of 21 brief movements – each a variation on the motivic fragment heard at the outset – that can be heard as falling into three larger groups whose impetus is channelled towards increasingly stable and cohesive effect, the music reaching a calm which is audibly devoid of exhaustion. Both pieces reaffirm Dusapin’s quartet cycle as among the most significant now emerging.
The other release brings together Dusapin’s music for cello and/or clarinet, a substantial body of work which extends across almost two decades of his output. Earlier pieces tend to reflect the influence of those composers (notably Xenakis) who shaped Dusapin’s attitude to timbre and texture, though even here an emphasis on gestural continuity points towards the organic formal designs of his maturity. Such is evident in Laps, where the two instruments unfold a dialogue that takes on greater emotional import as surely as it gains in momentum; qualities no less to the fore in Ipso, where solo clarinet focuses on spiralling arcs of sound that build to a heady culmination. The highlights, though, come with two major works for cello on the second disc. Immer makes inventive play with non-standard tuning in music whose melodic contours evince subtle overtones of folk music. Imago is more overt in its recourse to admittedly ‘false’ popular songs – its three pieces become unexpected and intriguing variations on each other in music that is among this composer’s most engaging and approachable.
Both discs enjoy spacious and lifelike sound, notably in the frequently intricate textures of the quartets, with detailed though occasionally abstruse booklet notes (some knowledge of post-war French philosophy and aesthetics would not go amiss). Anyone new to Dusapin’s music might start with the collection of orchestral works from Myung-Whun Chung (DG, 6/14) or the atmospheric and wide-ranging opera Perelà – Uoma di fumo (Naïve, 6/05), but the present discs are no less representative of this composer and as such can be warmly recommended.