BRUNO MANTOVANI: Huit moments musicaux; Cinq pieces pour Paul Klee; Suonare pour piano; D’une seule voix; All’ungarese – Clair Désert, piano/Trio Wanderer – Mirare Records MIR159, 71:00 (Distr. by Harmonia mundi) (8/13/13) ***:
Sometimes, modern music defies description or feels so unique that predicting its viability and attraction for an audience is a bit difficult. Such may be the case for the music of French composer Bruno Mantovani.
Mantovani’s press material makes a point of the fact that the composer “draws his inspiration from musical works of the past, from which he fashions thoroughly modern objects.” Based on the works included here, I don’t think I disagree.
Huit moments musicaux (Eight musical moments) is dedicated to the inspiration Mantovani acknowledges from Schubert’s Moments musicaux. In addition to Mantovani’s admiration of the Schubert work, he uses a tone row (of sorts) that serves as an abbreviation of the master’s names in German (FA-SCH; F-A-Eb-C-B) I thought that this very interesting, but somewhat abstract, trio for violin, cello and piano echoed bits of George Crumb, Messiaen and Lutoslawski, to me. Trio Wanderer is a very tight and skilled ensemble who do the piece great service.
The Five Pieces for Paul Klee for cello and piano came about after the composer’s visit to the Paul Klee Museum in Bern. The cello and piano “paint” lines of music in five sections that are reflections of the types of symmetry and lines (including some pointillism) found in Klee’s paintings. The work is certainly a ‘tour de force’ for both players (and kudos to Raphael Pidoux and Vincent Coq) that does impress. The other string showpiece here is the All’ungarese (‘as Hungarian’) for violin and piano, said to be in homage to the music of Bartok. There are certainly some moments that intentionally echo the very rhapsodic nature and sound of Bartok’s music; the second Violin Sonata in particular. Mantovani does state and acknowledge the work to be very “discontinuous”, however, with sections of raw improvisation. I did find it interesting, though, and, once again, find that this work is a real workout for the performers, especially the violinist; Jean-Marc Phillips-Varjabédian, in this case.
In the impressive solo work category, Suonare (Italian; “Sounds”) for piano is another strong entry. This is not at all a “sonata”; in fact Mantovani explains that often traditional piano music does not fully exploit the various forms of sound through touch that the instrument is capable of. While largely slow, there are moments of great flurry and virtuosity and the net effect is pretty abstract. This work reminded me a bit of Crumb, also.
The one duet work, D’une seule voix for violin and cello is a solo work for two instruments in its design. The title “of one voice” refers also to the sharing and trading of short complex gestures from violin to cello and back again that, in places, it sounds like one complex string instrument. This is another very complicated and virtuosic work that will impress with its demands.
I had mixed feelings about Mantovani’s music, as given here. I think the “inspiration from music (of) the past” may be a little misleading. There is nothing here intended to be ‘in the style of’ and listeners should understand that. I admire the difficulty and the creativity of all these works and I do think this a composer with something new to say. It is not an easy listen, though, and his audience is probably an esoteric, small subset of all people who may encounter this music. It is cerebral and complex and will appeal mostly to those already well grounded in less-than-tonal contemporary music.