MARC-ANDRE DALBAVIE: Orchestral Variations on a Theme by Janacek; Sinfonietta; Rocks Under the Water – The Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra/Dalbavie – AmeSon ASCP 0711, 64:41 [Distr. by Allegro] ****:
Marc-Andre Dalbavie is a contemporary French composer who has attracted the attention of major symphony orchestras around the world through the use of innovative compositional techniques. Orchestras in Chicago, Cleveland, Minneapolis and Philadelphia have performed his music. In the 1980s he experimented with timbre and color, a traditional interest of French composers. Later in that decade he added polyphony and electronics to his compositions. In the 1990’s he experimented with the relationship between music and its place of performance. Rocks Under Water (2002) was commissioned by the Cleveland Orchestra to commemorate the Peter B. Lewis building in Cleveland designed by famed architect Frank. O. Gehry. Gehry told Dalbavie that he had “two giant disproportionally–scaled Buddhas in mind,’ so the composer used bells to open and close the work as well as rhythms of Buddhist rituals. In the premiere, the orchestra was scattered around the building, an example of Dalbavie’s fascination with spatial music in different environments. It’s a colorful, impressionistic work with shimmering, sensual and monumental moments.
Another aspect of Dalbavie’s compositions is extending the ‘spectral music’ movement started in the 1970s by defining form as continuous transformation. Orchestral Variations on a Theme by Janacek (2006) is a 30 minute work for orchestra based on the fourth movement of Janacek’s suite for solo piano, In the Mists. The variations have an improvisational feel to them, but their destination is unclear. The result is music with many different characteristics – blocks of sound giving way to hushed tremelos, powerful brass chords, multiple percussive effects and an ethereal ending. It’s not without some touching melodic motifs, but its structure is not defined.
Although his Sinfonietta takes its title from Janacek’s music of the same title, the reference is really to a symphonic genre. Dalbavie uses another compositional form called process polyphonies. “There are several independent layers (of sound), somewhat like tracks on an electronic mixer, and each layer is assigned certain speeds and characteristics. These layers interact and overlay each other,” the composer explained.
The four movements have traditional titles: allegro, scherzo, largo and final. Instrumental color and sonority, blocks of fascinating orchestral sounds and timbral effects makes this work dramatic, exciting, subdued and repetitive according to the varying tempo of their movements.
Sound and performance are excellent. Francophiles interested in 21st century cutting edge music will be interested in this disc.