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Dalbavie: Color / Eschenbach, Orchestre De Paris

Release Date: 03/22/2005 
Label:  Naive   Catalog #: 82162   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Marc-André Dalbavie
Performer:  Eiichi Chijiiwa
Conductor:  Christoph Eschenbach
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orchestre de Paris
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 5 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Marc-André Dalbavie (b. 1961) has emerged as one of the most successful younger French composers. Like many, he found mentorship under the wing of Pierre Boulez, with whom he studied conducting, and at whose new music facility IRCAM he worked. He is currently professor of orchestration at the Paris Conservatoire, a very fitting position, considering a particular strength of his music. But unlike many of his peers, he has established a significant American presence, having residencies at the Minnesota and Cleveland Symphonies. Between this experience and his conducting, he has obviously absorbed a deep and instinctive knowledge of the orchestra and its sonic capacities.

Dalbavie’s music first established a profile
Read more involving spatialization, i.e., the positioning of instrumental groups throughout the acoustic performance space to create movement and physical contrasts of sound not possible with the standard proscenium setup. Of the works on this disc, the Violin Concerto (1996) falls into this category, though because of the compression required by stereo, this aspect of the music is not so evident in this format. But what does come through is the music of a young composer with an excellent ear for transparent, incisive combinations of color, and an attention to large-scale harmonic relations that are clearly audible. It is also very much a piece from its time and place: busy, gestural, indulgent in coloristic effects, and probably a little too long for its materials, no matter how attractive they are from moment to moment.

But in the next two works, Color (2001) and Ciaconna (2002), something quite different, and to my mind more profound, emerges. These works have a focus and sobriety that suggests greater depths, and yet they don’t sacrifice the brilliant sensuality of timbre and texture that characterizes the concerto. Instead, one has a sense that the composer has moved away from a kaleidoscopic template to that of a laser light: pure, brilliant, searing.

Dalbavie’s practice consists of several components. The music is often structured around a prominent central tone (in Color, it is G, arrived at after a long introduction from a D-Minor harmony; in Ciaccona, E. Boulez’s “Don” from Pli selon pli seems to be the source work for this aspect). Around that pitch, harmonies can emerge and morph, creating a developmental stream that is ironclad in its connection but dreamy in its direction. This seems in fact very French, in its similarity to Debussy’s formal language. And many of the harmonies that emerge are in fact extremely tonal, even triadic in their content. (A particular example is in Ciaccona, where a chromatic progression of pitches slowly reveals an underpinning of increasingly lush and tonal chords.) Of course, it is in terms of orchestration that Dalbavie makes the most immediate, spectacular impact. He knows how to double selectively, to create brilliant recombinant sounds that seem far more than the sum of their parts. The aesthetic is all based on clarity and transparency, but it also carries genuine force. In his scrupulous attention to both harmony and timbre (and his sense of their fundamental interrelation), Dalbavie is very much in the line of his two great predecessors, Messiaen and Boulez.

Another welcome aspect of this music is its restraint. There’s nothing timid about it; rather, it allows every event to truly count. This is particularly evident at about 15:30 of Color, where a swirling maelstrom breaks loose. And the whole of Ciaconna has a pacing that makes its 20-minute span riveting. (Again, Boulez lurks in the background, this time with his Rituel.) Of course, part of the reason for this formal confidence is Dalbavie’s reliance on cyclic forms (the chaconne, a repeating bass line, is the obvious foundation of Ciaconna, both linguistic and musical). Equally important is his willingness to reassert basic musical values of which the avant-garde has been skeptical. Specifically, Dalbavie has taken many aspects of a movement called “spectralism,” which has been important in France since the 1970s, and incorporated them into a more conservative musical aesthetic. (Color, for example, somewhat mischievously refers not so much to timbre but the Ars Nova definition of melody, a musical parameter somewhat shunned by the spectralists.) For such a leader of the movement as Tristan Murail, I have a suspicion Dalbavie’s work may feel like a co-optation. But in a way, like any strong artist, he is taking what works for him from whatever source suits his project, whether radical or traditional. In this manner, he reminds me most of John Adams, or of his even closer contemporary Aaron Kernis. In fact, something quite interesting seems to be percolating in new French music. Boulez is 80 this year, and has to be slowly loosening his Napoleonic grip on his nation’s musical culture. His influence is deep and lasting, but already I sense a far more open and diverse aesthetic emerging among younger composers (see my review of the very different Pascal Dusapin’s new opera). Increasingly free and expressively adventurous, yes; but also still profoundly French.

In the end, I really like this disc. I’ve found myself going back especially to Ciaconna for multiple listenings. There’s a deep musicality at work here, and I will be eager to hear where Dalbavie’s ear and questing spirit will next lead him.

Robert Carl, FANFARE
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Works on This Recording

Color by Marc-André Dalbavie
Conductor:  Christoph Eschenbach
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orchestre de Paris
Period: 20th Century 
Written: France 
Ciaconna by Marc-André Dalbavie
Conductor:  Christoph Eschenbach
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orchestre de Paris
Period: 20th Century 
Written: France 
Concerto for Violin by Marc-André Dalbavie
Performer:  Eiichi Chijiiwa (Violin)
Conductor:  Christoph Eschenbach
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orchestre de Paris
Period: 20th Century 
Notes: Composition written: By 1995 - 1996. 

Sound Samples

Violin Concerto

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