Reviews





The following is an excerpt from:

TO HELL AND BACK
by ALEX ROSS
The savage genius of Berlioz.
Issue of 2003-03-31
Posted 2003-03-24

For decades, modern French composers have been devoted to precisely the sort of stylistic purity and progressive ideology that Berlioz disdained. But a recent concert of the music of Marc-Andr� Dalbavie at the Guggenheim Museum suggested that a new diversity may be emerging in the world so long governed by Pierre Boulez. The Dalbavie concert was part of a monthlong, citywide festival called Sounds French; still to come are Pascal Dusapin�s opera �To Be Sung,� an eerie blend of voices and electronics, and Olivier Messiaen�s opulent piano cycle �Catalogue d�Oiseaux,� to be played bravely in one sitting by Roger Muraro.

Dalbavie, who is perhaps the most widely performed of French composers younger than fifty, has written a fair amount of music of the twittering, skittering, Boulezian kind. But the three pieces heard at the Guggenheim broke free of modernist clich�s. �Palimpsest,� for violin, viola, cello, flute, clarinet, and piano, conjured an extraordinary variety of sounds from fragments of a Gesualdo madrigal, at one point erupting into furious scales right out of a Vivaldi concerto. �Sextine Cyclus� was a beautifully arranged though somewhat overextended anthology of medieval songs; Jean-Paul Fouch�court sang them with loving eloquence, and members of the Orchestre de Paris provided a glistening accompaniment.

Most striking was �Chants,� for six singers and a chamber ensemble, based on Ezra Pound�s adaptations of classical poetry and troubadour songs. This was a world premi�re, and a significant one. Tonality seemed to dissolve and reform several times, as if a new language were struggling to be born. The splendid vocalists of the New York group Lionheart, for whom the piece was written, stood in a ring around the audience, answering each other antiphonally or uniting in high, unearthly harmonies. I thought for a moment of the Tuba Mirum of Berlioz�s �Requiem,� in which the trumpets of the Last Judgment sound from all corners of the hall. Dalbavie�s music felt like the last echo of that catastrophe as it dissipated into empty space.



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