DUTILLEUX: Tout un Monde Lointain (Cello Concerto). 3 Strophes Sur Le Nom De Sacher. L'Arbre Des Songs (Violin Concerto).
Truis Mork, cello; Renaud Capuçon, violin; French National Radio Orch/Myung-Whun Chung, cond.

ATTERBERG: Sinfonia per archi, Op. 53. Adagio amoroso for violin and strings. Intermezzo. Prelude & Fugue. Suite No. 7, Op. 29.
Camerata Nordica/Ulf Wallin, violin and conductor
cpo 777 156 TT: 62:38

Along with the late Olivier Messiaen, Henri Dutilleux kept alive a tradition in French music dating back to Debussy (and to a lesser extent Ravel) that seemed lost after WW2 when Pierre Boulez and his coterie – Gilbert Amy and the Intercontemporain crowd – declared tonality, consonance and three centuries of structural coherence dead. Or worse yet, irrelevant. Since the death of Messiaen, dedicated to Roman Catholicism, bird calls, and erotic splashes of sound, however, Dutilleux has been the doyen of French composers: no matter that Boulez, as of this writing, is even older and still active – conducting, however, rather than composing a mere handful of pieces he keeps working on but no longer seems content (or should the word be “able”?) to finish.

Dutilleux is both a fastidious and painstaking craftsman whose music does not yield its beauties to casual listening. His catalog, while not large, is invariably distinguished. The two concertos on this disc from Virgin Classics – recorded in 2001 and available abroad heretofore – were written 15 years apart: “Tout un Monde Lointain...” for cello was commissioned by Mstislav Rostropovich, composed in 1968-70 and recorded by EMI in 1974 with Serge Baudo conducting Orchestre de Paris. “L’Arbre des Songes” for violin was commisioned by Isaac Stern and recorded by him for Sony in 1985 (the year of its completion) with Loren Maazel and the French National Orchestra. The three short solo pieces for cello from 1976 and 1982 were a tribute to Paul Sacher, the Swiss Maecenas, on the occasion of his 70th birthday – one of 12 works commissioned by Rostropovich (even Boulez complied, but wrote for seven cellos, and like Dutilleux added to his original at a later date).

The cello concerto in five movements takes its title (“A whole world, far-off, absent, almost dead”) from Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs de mal, and indubitably echoes Debussy despite a recurring main theme that could have been an uncodified tone-row by Schoenberg, with outbursts of orchestral violence in what is otherwise a tranquil “world.” Truls M?rk’s performance is elegantly as well as eloquently refined without sacrifice of tensile strength, preferable to Rostropovich’s typically coarser playing on an a “Great Performances” CD from EMI that couples Witold Lutoslawski’s concerto, also written for Rostropovich. M?rk has the benefit of Myung-Whun Chung’s exquisite accompaniment with the French Radio Philharmonic, gorgeously recorded by Radio France in the Salle Messiaen. The violin concerto (its title in English is “The Tree of Dreams”) has four movements separated by “Interludes” that required nearly a decade to complete but is more explosively orchestrated and markedly more muscular, full of tintinnabulation that ultimately recalls the idiom of Takemitsu, likewise derived from Debussy. It can sound fiendishly intricate yet exhilaratingly so, and is superbly played by Renaud Capuçon, again with Chung’s hand-in-glove cooperation. I confess that the disc needed several playings (the violin concerto eight in fact) to yield a full quota of treasures, but remains a release of uncommon persuasion and deep-rooted eloquence.

Comparatively, despite recorded sound that sustains cpo’s world-class reputation, the disc of Atterberg’s (1887-1974) string music is not in a class creatively with the best of his nine symphonies on that label. Griegish in spirit, it is simple to the extent, almost, of trivia – this despite first-class playing by the Camerata Nordica under violinist Ulf Wallin’s direction. Swedish elevator music, one might say, strictly for Atterberg completists.

R.D. (March 2006)