THIERRY PECOU: Symphonie du Jaguar; Vague de pierre – Ensemble Zellig/ Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra/ Francois-Xavier Roth, Jonathan Stockhammer, conductors – Harmonia mundi 905267, 70:43 ***1/2:
I did not expect to like this release as much as I do; the notes by one Jean-Luc Tamby are riddled with esoteric and confused mumbo-jumbo that all too often is used to describe very difficult modern music under the guise of the exotic, philosophical, and Gnostic. In the end, the question always remains “what does it sound like?” despite all of the verbal posturing and pseudo-intellectual pretensions. Has Thierry Pecou really sought to transform “timbre into color, to change vibration into matter, time into space”? Is this really what he wanted to do? Or is he just following his muse and seeking to write a piece of music? To the composer’s credit, his explanations are not quite as convoluted, though a degree of philosophy is present in his exploration of cultures, the basis for these works.
Symphonie du Jaguar is a four-movement work that explores oppositions of mythological presences such as the visible and invisible worlds. Evidently the jaguar was a Mayan symbol of the sun and its journey into the bowels of the earth, and Pecou uses the clarinet, trombone, violin, cello, and female chorus to represent east, west, north, south, and center. Each movement depicts an aspect of the journey, whether stars, days, the “infraworld” or the journey to the center itself. The music is not really atonal, as Pecou revels in sometimes blatantly tonal episodes, but there is no rhyme or reason as to how and when these many patches of music interweave and interconnect—it is all at the disposal of the whim of the composer and his response to the dramatic thrust of the text and story. I find the work very colorful, unique, and well worth a listen.
The second work, Vague de pierre (“Stone wave”) is much more subjective and rational in the composer’s appreciation of Chinese art and philosophy, and also more impenetrable from a purely sonic standpoint. Here we also enter into the world of the avant-garde where the texts determine the very structure of the score, according to the composer. This piece is five years newer than the first (2002-07) and I hope is not illustrative of the more diffuse direction the composer might be taking. Once can make a good argument for a concert hall life for the Jaguar, but the Stone wave’s communicative abilities are far less profound.
All forces here play like pros, and Pecou can have no complaints about this excellent production.
— Steven Ritter