Symphony No 1
Orchestre de Paris / Paavo Järvi (Erato)
'What comes across today from these brilliantly vital accounts recorded in 2012/13 is the emotional diversity and effortless intensity which Henri Dutilleux could achieve without embracing the modish trappings of mid-20th-century progressiveness'
This admirable disc highlights a pair of French orchestral works from the 1960s which might once have seemed pallid and conservative when compared to the scintillating radicalism on offer from Messiaen, Boulez and Xenakis at the same time. Yet what comes across today from these brilliantly vital accounts recorded in 2012 13 is the emotional diversity and effortless intensity which Henri Dutilleux could achieve without embracing the modish trappings of mid-20th-century progressiveness. Even when evoking Dukas or Honegger, this is music that consistently projects a persuasive and thoroughly unhackneyed manner.
Born in 1916, Dutilleux was already in his forties when he completed his First Symphony in 1961. It’s true that the first and last of its four movements both lapse briefly into earnestness as they search for an appropriately weighty mode of expression. Yet such moments count for little with material that avoids any hint of soft-centredness, and Dutilleux even brings off an unusually quiet ending to the finale. Add in a scherzo that out-dazzles The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and an intermezzo that is anything but lightweight, and you have a modern symphony of rare distinction.
Written soon after, the five short and highly diverse character pieces that comprise Métaboles provide a more concentrated version of the symphony’s expressive range and formal qualities. Both scores are performed with relish by Paavo Järvi and an Orchestre de Paris on top form. This acoustically admirable disc also includes a brief and much later piece, Sur le même accord for violin and orchestra (2001 02). Though described as a ‘nocturne’, there is nothing soporific about this forcefully delineated music, a perfect miniature music drama.
by Arnold Whittall