Notes and Editorial Reviews
Surviving After Hiroshima.
Concerto Grosso. Concerto da Camera No. 2
Dionysios Dervis-Bournias, cond;
Marie Pouchelon (mez);
Eléonore Lemaire (sop);
Teddy Henry (ten);
Virgile Ancely (bbar); Royal PO
NAXOS 8.572623 (71:00)
René Maillard seemed destined to become a composer of some note when he won the Second Grand Prix de Rome in 1955 at age 24. He had already written a number of works, some of which had received public performance and at least one of which had attracted the notice of the Parisian musical press. But life intervened after Rome, and the need to make ends meet took him first to EMI France as an artistic director—he worked with Samson François, Paul Tortelier, and Heitor Villa-Lobos—and from there disillusionment with the music industry led to a career as a senior executive in what was to become part of the Swiss pharmaceuticals giant Hoffman-La Roche, a name quite familiar to anyone who follows European business affairs. Musically, Maillard remained silent for 40 years. In 2000 he retired to the French Riviera where he has indulged in his twin passions of golf and bridge, and finally, with some friendly encouragement, composing.
Survivre après Hiroshima
(Surviving after Hiroshima), op. 24, is the largest-scale of a number of works he has completed in this second period of creativity. Perhaps not surprisingly, his compositional voice has not changed appreciably since the 1950s, with Stravinskian neoclassicism and French tonal modernists like Honegger two obvious referents. He is, however, on the evidence here, more discreet that either of them in his use of color. This serves the cheerless subject of his 2006–07 cantata well. Setting the relatively melodramatic verse of Monique Charles in the compositional equivalent of shades of gray, he has produced a grimly dramatic anti-war statement and an inspiring monument to the strength of the human spirit. The poem tells the story of Kyoko Hama, who as a young woman escaped from the Allied firebombing of Osaka to stay with family in Hiroshima, only to become a survivor of the first atomic bombing as well. Maillard incorporates elements of Japanese pentatonic music and traditional drums in telling the story of Kyoko’s travails. In a melodic style at times reminiscent of liturgical chant and at other times of Westernized Japanese folk music, the Charles verse is sung by a vocal quartet acting as a chorus, and a mezzo-soprano soloist. The dramatic structure is not unlike a passion narrative. The fine Francophone quartet projects the text movingly, with the light, expressive mezzo of Sarah Jouffroy as the voice of Kyoko. In a striking
coup de théâtre
, Maillard uses a trumpet to lead the call for world peace that ends the work in a glow of major key and brighter color. I can imagine some American listeners taking umbrage with Charles’s naive minimization of Japanese aggression (“when life became difficult in that country”) and the implication that the use of the atomic bomb was immoral in those circumstances. The musical setting transcends such questions and focuses one on the devastation any war visits upon the innocent.
The other two works date from the end of composer’s first creative period. Neoclassical in style (well, the concerto grosso
is Baroque) with elements reminiscent of Bartók’s folk idiom, in these instrumental works the grayness is not balanced by the color of vocalists, and the effect is quite austere in these performances. Since Maillard was producer of this release, one would assume that he got what he wanted from the sessions, but the result in the instrumental works has me wondering if that was the case. The Concerto da Camera No. 2 for string orchestra, op. 16, is described as a divertimento, but while one can
this as more playful and lighthearted, it certainly isn’t so here. Is this intended as an irony? Given the thin, rather tentative playing, and the short two-day schedule to master and record three unfamiliar scores, it seems more likely that it was exigency. Even at that, there is much to like here—I am thinking of the elegiac viola in the second movement, for instance, and the entry of
trumpet in the third—that makes me want to hear this done again. The same could be said of the Concerto Grosso for string orchestra and wind quintet, op. 17. Like its predecessor, the tentativeness and general lack of energy seem bred of too little preparation, not design. So my recommendation is to buy this release against the unlikeliness of a second release, especially for the more involved and more proficiently performed cantata, and hope for more works from this interesting composer.
FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames
"French composer René Maillard's career has an unusual trajectory, to say the least. After writing numerous works in his twenties, he went into compositional semi-retirement and spent the Sixties, Seventies, Eighties and Nineties working initially for EMI France but soon for an American pharmaceutical company. It was not until his retirement proper, to the Côte d'Azur at the turn of the millennium, that Maillard returned to composition. Thus the extraordinary hiatus of 42 years between his original version of the Concerto Grosso op.17 and his Second Viola Sonata op.18 of 2003; whereas, by contrast, by August 2010 he had reached op.29, and revised at least four earlier works.
Maillard's 2005 Duo Sonata for two violins op.22a appeared on a Triton disc (TRI 331145, 2006) warmly received by French critics at the time, but otherwise this is the first appearance of Maillard's music on CD - surely not his last.
Surviving After Hiroshima is an ambitious work, telling the true story of a young girl surviving the atom bomb in 1945 against the odds. The booklet notes describe the cantata as "a song of hope, a hymn to life: surviving against hatred and war in a world of mankind reunited at last [sic]." The dramaturgy is reminiscent of a toned-down Carl Orff: apt, given the subject matter, to be reminded in places of his De Temporum Fine Comoedia. Sarah Jouffroy and the SATB quartet, all native French speakers, give convincing performances, coming together nicely for a relatively uplifting finale to what is otherwise a swirling, darkly dramatic, but wholly accessible, work of considerable depth and power. The booklet has Monique Charles' full text in French with a translation into English and, in possibly a first for Naxos, in Japanese.
The three movement Concerto Grosso for wind quintet and strings is Baroque by name and to a degree in form, but the similarity soon ends: the work has more of a neo-Classical feel to it, recalling Stravinsky in spirit if not in style. This is a low-key, somewhat cogitative work, but attractive all the same, and its audience-friendliness belies both its 21st century revision date and its original composition year - in the Boulezian heyday of the Darmstadt School.
The Concerto da Camera no. 2 was written just before the Concerto Grosso, and is similar in structure, style and effect, though the strings-only scoring lends the work both extra gravitas and richness, and there are seven more minutes of music. A divertimento of sorts, this again is a fairly buttoned-up work, and although the melody is as inhibited as the general mood, Maillard was clearly writing for audiences rather than intellectual cliques - yet there is no sense of condescension. An ad-lib trumpet pops up right at the end like a Mariachi band coming in through the wrong door, injecting some levity just as the work ends."
--Byzantion, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Surviving after Hiroshima, Op. 24 by Rene Maillard
Marie Pouchelon (Mezzo Soprano),
Eleonore Lemaire (Soprano),
Sarah Jouffroy (Mezzo Soprano),
Teddy Henry (Tenor),
Virgile Ancely (Tenor)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 21st Century
Concerto Grosso, Op. 17 by Rene Maillard
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
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