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Marc-andre Dalbavie: Janacek Variations; Rocks Under The Water; Sinfonietta

Dalbavie,Marc-andre / Mcp
Release Date: 02/09/2010 
Label:  Ameson   Catalog #: 711   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Marc-André Dalbavie
Conductor:  Marc-André Dalbavie
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 4 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

DALBAVIE Orchestral Variations on a Work of Janá?ek. Sinfonietta. Rocks Under the Water Marc-André Dalbavie, cond; Monte Carlo PO AMESON ASCP 0711 (64:41)

Marc-André Dalbavie’s Orchestral Variations are lush, sweeping music, gorgeously scored. His orchestration is so miraculous that, as with Rimsky-Korsakov and Korngold, we have to listen several times, then take a deep breath to get past the gorgeous sounds and evaluate the Read more music. Born in 1961, he is one of the current stars of French composition, which needed two generations to recover from the overpowering influence of Messiaen (b. 1908), the demanding prescriptions of Boulez (1925), and the stunning music of Dutilleux (1916). Dalbavie studied (conducting) with Boulez, and these variations are dedicated to Dutilleux; one can sense his feeling for all three. I had intended to describe his music to you, but I just reread Robert Carl’s stunning review of an all-Dalbavie disc in Fanfare 28:6 and his Want List 2005. Read it! For I am struck dumb by Bob’s knowledge, understanding, and ability to express his ideas. We do agree on certain things: Dalbavie’s music is very French, going back to even earlier generations; the Variations immediately suggest the sea to me, in their grand sweep but even more in atmosphere, reminiscent of La mer . Only the scale is different: Debussy’s seas are the rough waters of la Manche or the sun-soaked mer Méditerranée ; Dalbavie is abroad on a vaster ocean, one of limitless depth, with no shore in view. What I do not find here, however, is much relationship to Janá?ek, whose piano suite In the Mists served as the source of the variations.

Nor does the Sinfonietta, “in homage to Janá?ek and his work with this title,” evoke its predecessor. For one thing, it is more conventional in structure, having the customary four movements (Allegro, Scherzo, Largo, Final ) rather than Janá?ek’s five. The range of tempos allows Dalbavie a greater variety of spirit than in the Variations, but the sonic basis is similar. Rocks Under the Water begins to sound like more of the same, which suggests that it might be best to hear but one Dalbavie work per sitting. There are moments of greater clarity here, however, as if individual rocks were sparkling in the bed of an unpolluted stream.

I don’t think I have encountered the Monte Carlo orchestra since its days—half a century ago—as a lightweight “ballet” orchestra; it has come a long way, and it now sounds like a major international ensemble. The recorded sound is gorgeous—as it needs to be to capture the essence of Dalbavie’s orchestrations. I am bedeviled by the inequities—the idiocies—of recording media: I get surround-sound SACDs of piano and chamber music, for which the medium seldom helps, while this prime candidate for umpteen channels comes in only two.

After half a dozen hearings, I am still at the stage of wallowing in the sumptuous music; it is going to take even longer than I had anticipated to plumb its depths. One thing is already clear, however: Dalbavie has returned to tonality without any loss of originality; there is no hint of eclecticism—of post-anything—here, beyond the generally French character of his idiom. This is all-new, all-Dalbavie. Judging from six works on disc and one live performance, the Dalbavie sound will be instantly identifiable.

FANFARE: James H. North


As I was preparing this review, I learned of the passing of Sir Charles Mackerras. I can think of no better tribute to him, indirect though it be, than the first work on this disc. Mackerras was largely responsible for introducing the music of Janácek to the West and he championed it throughout his long career. I don’t know whether Dalbavie gained his appreciation for the Czech master’s work from exposure via Mackerras or not. The notes accompanying this disc do not mention how he came to set Janácek’s music in the case of the Variations or pay homage to him in the case of the Sinfonietta. I wouldn’t be surprised, though, if Mackerras had a part to play here.

Last year I reviewed a CD featuring pianist Leif Ove Andsnes that included Dalbavie’s Piano Concerto, and I was rather equivocal about the work. I was intrigued enough, however, to want to hear more of his music. When I learned that he had composed a work based on a composition of one of my very favorite composers, I knew I had to hear it. I must say right off that I have found a lot more to like in the Variations than I did in the Piano Concerto and not just because he based his work on Janácek’s. Dalbavie has abandoned some of his pure spectralist roots and brought more interest into his music while still retaining his own special use of orchestral color.

The Variations are based on the fourth, and last movement of Janácek’s piano suite, In the Mist, marked presto. Right from the beginning, Dalbavie sets the mood but a very slow tempo. He uses about a half-dozen notes from the Janácek movement filtered through his own dream-like state. He quotes the themes from the movement in fragments throughout the work and actually performs the whole piece twice in this way. There are several extensive quotations during the work, for example, before 8:50 by the brass and strings playing fortissimo, at 17:30 by the oboe followed by the strings at 17:48, and at 21:10, shortly before the work’s end, by the clarinet. The latter two are played softly. The work in its entirety is very well constructed and holds the listener’s attention throughout its 22 minutes. This is remarkable, as it is based on a movement in the Janácek suite that last slightly more than four minutes. Dalbavie’s work, indeed, leaves a powerful impression and would grace any orchestral program.

The Sinfonietta, which as I mentioned was composed in homage to Janácek, does not remind this listener of Janácek’s work of the same title in any significant way. Perhaps his emphasis on the brass section owes something to the earlier composition, but otherwise, this is pure Dalbavie. The Sinfonietta is divided into the four traditional symphonic movements: Allegro, Scherzo, Largo, and Final, which makes it quite different from the Janácek Sinfonietta. There are no trumpet fanfares, either, and the orchestra seems to be that of a standard symphony orchestra unlike the extra brass employed in the Janácek work. Dalbavie himself describes the piece as “constructed according to my principle of process polyphonies. There are thus several independent layers, somewhat like the tracks on an electronic mixer, and each layer is assigned certain speeds and characteristics.” He calls the work a “multi-track symphony.” I found it more attractive than his Piano Concerto, but not quite at the level of the Variations.

The final work on the disc is the short tone poem, The Rocks under the Water. Dalbavie composed it for the inauguration of the Peter B. Lewis Building in Cleveland, Ohio designed by architect Frank Gehry, who is famous for his abstract and irregular designs, e.g., the Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles. Gehry told the composer that he had Chinese Buddhas in mind when he designed the building, so Dalbavie uses bell sounds and other percussion to evoke the Eastern atmosphere. The work, while basically slow, has a number of dramatic moments featuring the brass, and ends with the “simultaneous effect of immobility and movement, in keeping with the image of rocks seen below and through water”—according to Guy Lelong, in the notes accompanying the CD. This is a fine work, too, and has the stamp of the composer firmly fixed. Dalbavie’s music is individual enough to recognize his sound after a few moments in all of these works.

One can assume that these performances are authoritative because the composer is the conductor for all three. The Monte-Carlo Philharmonic has really advanced since I last heard a recording of them. They sound here like a first-class ensemble and they are recorded very well, too. I am happy that this music has changed my impression of Dalbavie. His work has much that is individual and is very approachable, too. I can think of no better introduction to him than this disc.

-- Leslie Wright, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

Variations on a theme by Janacek, for orchestra by Marc-André Dalbavie
Conductor:  Marc-André Dalbavie
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra
Venue:  Auditorium Rainier III, Monaco 
Length: 22 Minutes 3 Secs. 
Sinfonietta, for orchestra by Marc-André Dalbavie
Conductor:  Marc-André Dalbavie
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra
Venue:  Auditorium Rainier III, Monaco 
Length: 30 Minutes 13 Secs. 
Rocks Under The Water, for orchestra by Marc-André Dalbavie
Conductor:  Marc-André Dalbavie
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra
Venue:  Auditorium Rainier III, Monaco 
Length: 11 Minutes 33 Secs. 

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