Wilson Conducts Dutilleux

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DUTILLEUX: Le Loup (The Wolf), Ballet in One Act & Three Tableaux. Sonatine for Flute (orch. Hesketh). Oboe Sonata (orch. Hesketh). Sarabande et Cortège for Bassoon (orch. Hesketh) / Adam Walker, fl; Juliana Koch, ob; Jonathan Davies, bsn; Sinfonia of London; John Wilson, cond / Chandos CHSA 5263

Henri Dutilleux, championed by the late Charles Munch, has since become a sort-of standard repertoire composer. This CD presents his rarely-heard ballet music for The Wolf along with fairly new orchestrations of three other pieces; these are their first recordings.

The ballet was commissioned by then-28-year-old Roland Petit for his ballet company, which he founded in 1944 with Boris Kochno, a former assistant to Sergei Diaghelev. Apparently, the composer couldn’t stick to the timescale of three months. Dutilleux first turned down his offer, then accepted and began bringing him new pages of the score every day. Petit had to accept what he was given, and thus choreographed Le Loup in bits and pieces. The plot concerns a Germanic sort of legend depicting the love of a young girl for a wolf. Leave it to the Europeans to come up with something that leaned towards bestiality.

The music, however, is interesting and, in fact, more tonal and accessible than Dutilleux’s symphonies, though it still has some edgy harmonies here and there as well as some very tricky rhythms that I’m sure Petit was not crazy about choreographing…yet somehow Petit managed to pull it together.

A great deal of the music’s effectiveness, particularly for those who, like myself, had not heard it before, comes from John Wilson’s extraordinarily lively conducting. Wilson really gets into the music, caressing the lyrical passages and conducting the fast ones with energy and a good sense of rhythm. Needless to say, the section of the music depicting the bridal chamber is wild and rambunctious; this was no gentle wolf; but the “Dance of Love” is lyrical and charming in its own way.

The remainder of the album consists of sonatas and sonatines in which Kenneth Hesketh was called upon to create orchestral scores. I’m not sure why Hesketh or Wilson felt that orchestrating this music was necessary, but the flute Sonatine is a fine work, opening with a long lyrical passage before moving into faster music in a major key around the 5:37 mark. Flautist Adam Walker is simply terrific, playing this music with astonishing energy and liveliness as well as a lovely tone in the lyric sections.

The oboe sonata is a much more involved piece in three movements, and here Dutilleux creates some vivid sound imagery with a mysterious-sounding accompaniment. This is quite effective in the orchestration, particularly in the second-movement “Scherzo” which stes up an ostinato rhythm similar to something Stravinsky might have written, though I still think it wasn’t necessary. I didn’t like the final third movement, however; it seemed to me light fluff music that didn’t fit in with the rest of the sonata.

The bassoon Sarabande et Cortège sounds the most “French” of all the works on this CD and is light and airy from the start. I found it technically interesting but not particularly meaty.

So the bottom line is that Le Loup and the first two orchestrated sonatas are quite fine, and well performed. Admirers of the composer will surely want this disc.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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