HENRI DUTILLEUX: Metaboles, L’Arbre Des Songes “Tree of Dreams” (Violin Concerto), Symphony No. 2 “Le Double”—Augustin Hadelich, v./ Seattle Sym./Ludovic Morlot — Seattle Sym. Media SSM1007, 73:02 *****:

Listening to the music of Henri Dutilleux (1916-2013) is like riding a Technicolor roller coaster of enchanting dreams. He’s the modern French descendant of Debussy and Ravel through Messiaen, which means he’s a master of orchestral color and refined poetic expression. His music has a flow and structure that draws the listener in rather than relying on melody or drama for effect. He’s an audiophile’s dream—he creates space between orchestral groups that leads to clarity of texture and the ‘hall sound’ that replicates the concert experience. Dutilleux is fond of affixing pictorial titles to his music, which grounds it, if not in reality, at least in a visual picture that begins the listener’s experience. He was the French antidote to Pierre Boulez, rejecting the dogma and authoritarianism of the serial style in favor of tonality. Esa-Pekka Salonen, a significant composer and conductor of our time, said of him, “Everything Dutilleux has written in the last decades belongs to the category of masterpiece.”

Dutilleux started composing at age 13, and studied harmony and counterpoint at the Paris Conservatoire. His cantata, L’anneau du roi won the Prix de Rome in 1938, but the outbreak of World War II terminated the Rome residency. For five years he survived by teaching, playing the piano and arranging night-club music, before joining the French Radio in 1943. Two years later became Head of Music Production, a post he held until 1963. He taught and filled many composer residency positions with music groups as his fame and recognition grew.

In writing Metaboles (1964) the composer noted that ‘the spirit and form of this music originated in an intense contemplation of nature.’ Dutilleux uses the title as the structure of this sixteen-minute work. Each movement undergoes harmonic, rhythmic and melodic changes, but are connected by music that follows it.  Woodwinds, strings, bass and percussion dominate the first four movements and the last combines all the instrumental families. “Incantatoire” leads with winds mimicking a passage from Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, followed by orchestral chords and a brief string passage which is developed in “Lineaire,” a beautiful nocturnal elegy. “Obsessionnel” follows with a jazzy romp leading to an unusually serene percussive “Torpide.” An increasingly untamed “Flamboyant” ends with a bang.

Like Metaboles, Dutilleux’s Violin Concerto (1985) contains what the composer called “a predilation for the spirit of variation.” It’s more about a spirit of invention and “making the solo instrument closely dependent upon the orchestra environment and vice versa.” Its subtitle “Tree of Dreams” refers to the growth of the piece “somewhat like a tree, for the constant multiplication and renewal of its branches is the lyrical essence of the tree,” the composer wrote in the preface to his score. The four movements are linked by contrasting interludes that connect the work’s different moods. The percussive chimes that create a ringing effect throughout the work add to the fantasy and sensuality that pervade this rich tapestry of sound.

The Symphony No. 2 (1959) “Le Double” refers to the work’s scoring for an ensemble of twelve instruments and a full orchestra. The title is meant only as a concept, “Two characters in one, one being a reflected image of the other,” the composer stated. As in the other works on this disc, themes and their fragments create a tapestry of variations that become a part of the whole, rather than separate contrasting sections. Listen for the rising clarinet theme that appears early and often throughout the energetic and mysterious first movement. An enigmatic slow movement gradually gathers force and leads to a jazzy last movement that uses syncopated rhythms to build tension. Flowing strings add a lushness that’s intoxicating. While Morlot’s slower tempos decrease the drama of the last movement, its magical ending is fully revealed. Otherwise, the performances and recording are superior, making this one of the best classical CDs of the year.

—Robert Moon