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Mantovani, Schoeller, Amy: Cello Concertos / Queyras, Et Al

Release Date: 06/09/2009 
Label:  Harmonia Mundi   Catalog #: 901973   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Philippe SchoellerBruno MantovaniGilbert Amy
Performer:  Jean-Guihen Queyras
Conductor:  Alexander BrigerGünther HerbigGilbert Amy
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Radio France Philharmonic OrchestraSaarbrücken Radio Symphony OrchestraParis Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

B. MANTOVANI Cello Concerto. 1 SCHOELLER Cello Concerto, “The eyes of the wind.” 2 AMY Cello Concerto 3 Jean-Guihen Queyras (vc); Günter Herbig, cond; 1 Alexander Briger, cond; 2 Gilbert Amy, cond; 3 Read more class="ARIAL12"> Saarbrücken RSO; 1 R France PO; 2 O de Paris 3 HARMONIA MUNDI 901973 (68:56)

Not exactly my cup of tea, but a very interesting, not to say courageous, release by the highly acclaimed—and one of my favorite—young cellists, Jean-Guihen Queyras; and, as always, a beautifully produced CD from Harmonia Mundi.

The three composers on this disc represent almost three generations of post WW II modern 20th-century French music. Bruno Mantovani (b. 1974) is the youngest, and his Cello Concerto, written in 2003 for Queyras, is of a musical persuasion I’ve had difficulty in these pages before identifying as music. Whether this work might grow on me with additional hearings or possibly with injections of immunosuppressants, it’s hard to say; but my initial reactions reject this sort of thing in much the way the body rejects an organ transplant.

Mantovani claims to have employed the same orchestral forces as Schumann did in his Cello Concerto, but any other similarities or connections are non-existent. While the piece may not utilize microphones, magnetic tape, computers, or other electronics to generate its sounds, it nonetheless closely approximates what has come to be called musique concrete , an aesthetic developed in the 1940s by French composer Pierre Schaeffer. I’m not sure how else to describe Mantovani’s concerto, other than to register the impression it makes on my ears, which is that of a continuous kaleidoscopic collision resulting from instruments being banged, buzzed, tooted, and sawed upon for almost 19 minutes in ways their makers could never have imagined or intended. To some, I suppose, a piece made up of seemingly random sound effects can evoke various moods and feelings, and maybe that alone is sufficient to qualify it as musically satisfying. But even the composer himself speaks of his desire to move away from “firmly structured works” and his search for “the concept of continuous flow,” which I take to mean a kind of stream-of-consciousness approach. If that was Mantovani’s aim, he succeeded. Mantovani is a student of French composer Guy Reibel who, in turn, trained under Messiaen. Reibel was cofounder, along with the aforementioned Pierre Schaeffer, of the Groupe de Recherches Musicales that also drew in Xenakis and a number of the leading lights of the avant-garde.

Stepping back close to a generation, one might have expected “The eyes of the wind” Concerto by Philippe Schoeller (b. 1957) to be a bit more conventional; but no, it’s more of the same. Long, drawn-out notes on the cello are punctuated by percussive tinkling that sounds like breaking glass. The cello shrieks its alarm with stratospheric harmonics, then sighs its regret with resigned glissandos. This “concerto” is divided into four movements approximating something close to a traditional structure. But the contents of each movement are so similar in their vocabulary and techniques that the divisions seem entirely arbitrary. It’s not surprising to learn that Schoeller was a student of Boulez, Xenakis, and Franco Donatoni.

Going back close to another generation, we come to Gilbert Amy (b. 1936) whose seven-movement Cello Concerto is not quite as outré as Mantovani’s or Schoeller’s, but seems to plant the seeds for them. I’ll grant you there are some striking moments, though they do not achieve their effects melodically or harmonically, but rather through texture and color. The movement marked Aérien, suspendu, quasi senza tempo , contains some truly otherworldly sounds that, if beamed into deep space by the SETI Institute, might actually elicit an alien reply. Like Mantovani, Amy also studied with Messiaen, but then was drawn in by Stockhausen and the Darmstadt group.

Empirically, I have no way of evaluating the performances. There are no other recordings of these works to compare them to, and in scores such as these, it’s difficult to say much if anything about interpretive matters. Familiarity with other recordings by Queyras in more traditional fare leads me to trust that his playing here is no less committed and accomplished than I’ve found it to be elsewhere. And Harmonia Mundi’s recording is exceptionally detailed and spacious. This is a disc sure to be embraced by those who appreciate uncompromisingly modern music.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Cello by Philippe Schoeller
Performer:  Jean-Guihen Queyras (Cello)
Conductor:  Alexander Briger
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra
Length: 19 Minutes 30 Secs. 
Concerto for Cello by Bruno Mantovani
Performer:  Jean-Guihen Queyras (Cello)
Conductor:  Günther Herbig
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra
Length: 18 Minutes 41 Secs. 
Concerto for Cello by Gilbert Amy
Performer:  Jean-Guihen Queyras (Cello)
Conductor:  Gilbert Amy
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Paris Orchestra
Length: 28 Minutes 36 Secs. 

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