DUTILLEUX Mystère de l'instant. Timbres, espace, mouvement
Here is the third instalment of Ludovic Morlot and the Seattle Symphony Orchestra’s Henri Dutilleux cycle, also available in a three-disc box with Vols 1 and 2. By now we know what to expect: impeccable orchestral playing under the stewardship of a conductor whose instinct for Dutilleux’s harmonic and gestural sensibilities feels unerringly spot-on.
But this disc also deals up a wild card. Les citations, subtitled ‘diptych for oboe, harpsichord, bass and percussion’, was originally a one-movement work, written while Dutilleux was composer-in-residence at Aldeburgh in 1985, to which, five years on, a follow-up movement and double bass part were added. Dutilleux’s music tends towards luxuriating inside marinated strata of orchestral texture – even his string quartet Ainsi la nuit rethinks that approach as chamber music – but Les citations has a rhetorical starkness that is very striking, an alternative view from the composer about how to assemble music.
This timbrally supple performance, graphically recorded, springs into life as Mahan Esfahani’s louche harpsichord enters furtively and cuts across the prevailing ensemble flow with gestures that outline stolid Baroque grandeur and notes that collapse architecture from the inside. Dutilleux expertly teases our sense of narrative and time. Each instrument feels connected, but with an independence of movement, like puppets trying to cut free from their own strings. As Dutilleux’s oboe fragments evolve into fully paragraphed lines that climax with multiphonics – all beautifully sculpted by Mary Lynch – dabs of the Baroque colour this explicitly contemporary canvas, a secreted pigment used to puncture the surface.
One of the great learnings of Morlot’s cycle has been the extent to which harmony, timbre and gesture are unified at a subterranean level, then ripen and regenerate in relation to each other. Sur le même accord, a mini-concerto premiered by Anne-Sophie Mutter in 2002, is slight and lacklustre; but Timbres, espace, mouvement (1978, rev 1990) and Mystère de l’instant (1989) cast that familiar spell. Morlot ignites the earlier work with a colouristic ecstasy – the piece was inspired by Van Gogh’s Starry Night – notably lacking in Semyon Bychkov’s 1990s performance and only semi-achieved by Yan Pascal Tortelier. Mystère de l’instant nudges the cimbalom satisfyingly to the fore as Morlot kneads this episodic work into a multi-dimensional whole.