DUTILLEUX Le Loup
This is my third review of work by Henri Dutilleux in as many months, implying a certain premature zeal on behalf of record companies keen to mark Dutilleux’s centenary year in 2016. Subtitled ‘Song, Stage and Screen: the lesser-known Dutilleux’, this programme represents the younger Henri, presumably needing to put bread on the table, employing his talents as a resourceful orchestrator and as a purveyor of well-heeled mood music commissioned from film, ballet and stage directors. And given the settled narrative that currently exists around Dutilleux’s mature concert music – that he reduced everything that surrounded him, from Ravel and Messiaen to jazz, into a cultivated compositional purée – knowing that Dutilleux could also turn on a wicked ear for pastiche, and was not above full-frontal kitsch, acts as a useful corrective.
The music he composed for Henri Decoin’s 1946 film La fille du diable and for a 1945 Paris stage adaptation of Wuthering Heights, which he recycled as Trois Tableaux symphoniques, is grounded in the gestural vocabulary of Hollywood’s best: composers like Franz Waxman and Dimitri Tiomkin. This music might play it safe harmonically but Dutilleux splashes orchestral timbres around with the abandon of an action painter, as blood-curdling swoops from an ondes martenot add local colour. Pascal Rophé and his Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire take these scores at face value, carving through notes with flamboyant cliffhanger urgency.
But the standout work is Le Loup, Dutilleux’s 1953 ballet score, recorded only once before in 1954 and talked up habitually as a neglected masterwork. Personally, I’m not so sure. Rophé lends the 30-minute structure symphonic grandeur but, three decades after Stravinsky had reset the debate regarding ballet music, Dutilleux’s score sounds functional and reheated – bitonality pilfered from Ravel’s Boléro (just as that 1946 film score keeps threatening to mutate into Daphnis et Chloé) with a palpable Les Six-derived energy keeping the music afloat. More pertinent to Dutilleux’s future is the aphoristic Trois Sonnets de Jean Cassou (1954), sung with gossamer delicacy by Vincent Le Texier, the discreet, cryptic lyricism characteristic of Dutilleux’s later work now in clear evidence.