Dutilleux: Le Loup. © 2021 Chandos Records Ltd

CD Spotlight

Delightful and Colourful

GEOFF PEARCE recommends a new Chandos recording of music by Henri Dutilleux

'This music will delight all who hear it ...'


Henri Dutilleux (1916-2013) has long been one of my favourite twentieth century composers, and was actively writing music up until a couple of years before he died. He was not a prolific composer, and was very self critical, so tended to publish little and revise a lot of what he wrote. He also underwent a few stylistic changes over his lifetime and tended to disregard his own earlier music. The woodwind pieces are representative of those earlier pieces, and the ballet Le Loup, even whilst being written in 1953, was not sanctioned for public performances after its short initial season, until very late in Dutilleux's life. This recording, featuring John Wilson and the Sinfonia of London, is the first made outside France.

Le Loup (The Wolf) is a short three tableau ballet, commissioned in 1952 by the choreographer Roland Petit. It tells the story of a man who jilts his girlfriend by saying that he has been turned into a wolf. She later finds out that the wolf is real, and when it is pursued and killed by terrified villagers, she dies at its side.

In the first tableaux, we are in a circus fairground. The wolf performs magic tricks, the gypsy girl enters, an onlooker is turned into an animal, the wedding party enters and the gypsy girl dances. The music starts rather ominously with two chords which repeat a few times before a march-like tune, first heard in the trumpet, gives a feeling of a crowd and fairground. It is somewhat reminiscent of the opening of Stravinsky's A Soldier's Tale. The music shifts to a more tender and seductive tune as the girl enters, and then becomes playful. There is a dance between bride and bridegroom and then substitution of the young man the girl was going to marry for the wolf. She takes the wolf as her husband, then the wedding party leaves the church. The music, delightful and colourful, reminds me a little of both Dukas and Stravinsky.

Listen — Henri Dutilleux: Premier Tableau (Le Loup)
(track 1, 4:08-4:56) ℗ 2021 Chandos Records Ltd :

In the second tableau, the wedding procession accompany the wolf and his bride to their home, then they leave them alone. She dances for, and then tries to teach the one she thinks is her husband. After a few tentative steps they do dance, then enter the village gossips, followed by the animal trainer who explains the error and substitutes the wolf for the young groom. He grabs her but she repels him. The wolf seizes her and they run off. All very confusing stuff. But it is a classic 'beauty and the beast' tale. Given the action of the dancers, the music is quite varied in mood, at times tender and impassioned and at others more dramatically charged.

Listen — Henri Dutilleux: Deuxième Tableau (Le Loup)
(track 2, 8:38-9:28) ℗ 2021 Chandos Records Ltd :

In the third tableau, they are alone in the forest and dance together, however this is short-lasting as they are pursued by the villagers, who eventually corner the wolf, stab him with pitchforks and he dies.

Listen — Henri Dutilleux: Troisième Tableau (Le Loup)
(track 3, 1:23-2:06) ℗ 2021 Chandos Records Ltd :

This is a colourful and dramatic work, and I hope is now performed more often. The orchestra responds beautifully to the direction of the conductor and provide a riveting performance of great colour and excitement.

The Sonatine for flute and piano has been orchestrated by Kenneth Hesketh. This early work, written in 1943, was dismissed by Dutilleux, but it has proven popular with both flautists and audiences alike. It is a lovely, melodic and lush work. Hesketh's orchestration is masterful, and I can imagine that Dutilleux would have approved. Adam Walker's flute playing is sumptuous, and I like it very much. He is expressive, technically very accomplished and his sound projects without any shrillness. I find this work reminiscent of Debussy and Ravel, but certainly Dutilleux's voice is original and always present.

Listen — Henri Dutilleux: Sonatine for flute and piano
(track 4, 5:01-5:59) ℗ 2021 Chandos Records Ltd :

The Oboe Sonata was written in 1947, and is a favourite amongst many oboists in its original state, with piano. It is not easy to perform, but is very colourful. It has been orchestrated here, also by Kenneth Hesketh, and I find the orchestration evocative, masterful and very much in the spirit of the original. Juliana Koch is a superb oboist, and I believe she is the principal oboist in the London Symphony Orchestra. In this three movement work, her sound is magnificent from the slow, almost remote first movement, to the virtuosic and demanding second movement, and the equally demanding and lyrical last movement. I love this work very much and, believe me, this is a dream performance. I am especially drawn to the second movement which has a lot of rhythmic drive, some demanding articulation and some beautifully lyrical phrases.

Listen — Henri Dutilleux: Scherzo (Sonate for oboe and piano)
(track 6, 0:20-1:09) ℗ 2021 Chandos Records Ltd :

The last work on the disc, written a year earlier than the Sonatine for Flute, is the Sarabande et Cortege for bassoon and piano, again orchestrated by Kenneth Hesketh. The bassoonist here is Jonathan Davies, who has a beautifully expressive sound over the whole range of the instrument which lends itself very well to this work. Davies has a great technique and understanding of this work, which is in two movements - a slow, rather dolorous sarabande and a rather quirky cortege. I had not heard this work before.

Listen — Henri Dutilleux: Cortège (Sarabande et Cortège for bassoon and piano)
(track 9, 1:22-2:05) ℗ 2021 Chandos Records Ltd :

This music will delight all who hear it - both the ballet and the woodwind pieces. The orchestrations in the woodwind pieces are masterful and I think they add significantly to the colour of the original works. Kenneth Hesketh was Dutilleux's student and this adds to the credibility of the orchestrations. The soloists and orchestra are as fine as you could ever want to hear. This is a fantastic disc, well worth purchasing.

Copyright © 23 May 2021 Geoff Pearce,
Sydney, Australia








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