Dutilleux D'Ombre et de silence
There’s no escaping the fact that Henri Dutilleux’s only major piano composition, the Sonata (1946 48), is a relatively early work. Yet for all its apparent conservatism – with echoes extending back as far as César Franck, it could hardly be more different from Boulez’s contemporaneous pair of sonatas – there is nothing remotely timid or precious about it. On this finely engineered ECM disc, Robert Levin’s performance is all the more impressive for the unbridled energy and clarity with which it puts the music’s distinctive argumentative character across.
Levin explains his longstanding affinity with Dutilleux’s music in an absorbing booklet essay: and while we may regret that in later years the composer has not returned to the solo-piano medium for more than occasional miniatures, it is still fascinating to trace the path he has taken from the slight and charming Bergerie of 1946 (echoes here of Sauguet or Ibert) to the turbulent disjunctions of “Le jeu de contraires” (1988), the last of the three Preludes.
In the brief Figures de résonances from the 1970s, in which Levin is joined by Ya-Fei Chuang, Dutilleux almost seems to be aiming to equal if not outdo his most radical French contemporaries in fragmentation and sonic abrasiveness. Even here there is nothing awkward or anonymous about the result, and Dutilleux’s ability to mark out his own territory is no less striking in his one tiny ornithological piece – Blackbird (1950) – which has absolutely nothing of Messiaen about it. Robert Levin is in commanding form throughout and the disc is a worthy memorial to its dedicatee, the composer’s late wife and first pianistic interpreter, Geneviève Joy.