In concert – Dutilleux centenary concert at the Wigmore Hall

frank-braleyDutilleux 100th Anniversary Concert

Wigmore Hall, London, 24 January 2016

Dutilleux: Trois strophes sue le nom de Sacher; Trois preludes

Ravel: Piano Trio in A minor

Debussy: Violin Sonata in G minor

Dutilleux: Ainsi la nuit

Lisa Batiashvili, Valeriy Sokolov (violins), Gérard Caussé (viola), Gautier Capuçon (cello), Frank Braley (piano, above)

Written by Richard Whitehouse

Having marked his 95th birthday with a concert centred on his music, it was good to see the Wigmore Hall commemorating Henri Dutilleux’s centenary – and, even though the composer has been gone almost three years, the influence of his modest output seems greater than ever.

Interesting that the three works chosen were all conceived during the 1970s – a decade which saw some of Dutilleux’s most exploratory writing. Hence Trois strophes sur le nom de Sacher (1976/82), which grew from a 70th birthday tribute to the Swiss conductor and patron into a ‘sonatina’ of evident resource; one whose alternately combative and taciturn humour was not passed over by Gautier Capuçon in this focussed yet never too earnest account. Even longer in gestation, Trois préludes (1973/88) makes for a fluid distillation of pianistic practice and a culmination of Dutilleux’s involvement with the medium – but here the connection between pieces is more gestural than motivic; the music’s gliding between formal and technical puns obscured by the sheer allure of its pianism, as Frank Braley’s questing performance attested.

Ending the first half then opening the second were pieces by Ravel and Debussy, composer whose influences on Dutilleux were enduring if hardly straightforward. The expansiveness of Ravel’s Piano Trio (1914) betrays an emotional commitment only just held in check during the restive opening movement and quixotic scherzo – its rhythmic subtleties ably negotiated by Lisa Batiashvili, Capuçon and Braley, who pursued a seamless course across the searching passacaglia then drew the finale’s formal poise and expressive rhetoric into seamless accord.

Despite its proximity in time, Debussy’s Violin Sonata (1917) is far removed in its emphasis on a sardonic humour which, dominating the brusquely truncated opening Allegro, yields a measure of finesse in the central intermezzo such as Batiashvili and Braley conveyed in full. Not so much the sum of its preceding movements as the reconciling of its antagonisms, the finale achieves that far-reaching amalgam of lucidity and abandon which its ailing composer no doubt saw as inherently French, and which these performers captured in no small measure.

dutilleux-2Henri Dutilleux, who died aged 97 in 2013

The programme concluded with Ainsi la nuit (1973-6) – Dutilleux’s sole contribution to the genre of the string quartet, though one whose well-nigh seamless succession of movements and parenthetical interludes acknowledges Boulez as well as Carter through that imaginative freedom which is this composer’s alone. Whether or not Batiashvili, together with Valeriy Sokolov, Gérard Caussé and Braley, perform often as an ensemble, there was no mistaking the conviction and insight that lay behind this passionate yet always considered reading. The only proviso might be the several over-extended pauses (this being a single movement of 12 sections rather than one in six pairs of movements), though this did very little to undermine momentum over the heady accumulation towards that wickedly disintegrative final gesture.

A fitting tribute, then, to its featured composer. No place for the Piano Sonata, Figures de résonances or Les citations (to name his other main chamber or instrumental works), but if these were to feature in another Dutilleux-centred recital later this year, so much the better.

An appreciation of the music of Henri Dutilleux will follow soon on Arcana.

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