Henri Dutilleux: D’ombre et de silence
Robert Levin, piano
Ya-Fei Chuang, piano
ECM New Series CD 2105

Born in 1916, Henri Dutilleux remains one of France’s most important living composers. In the first recording to feature his work on the ECM imprint, pianists Robert Levin and Ya-Fei Chuang tackle his piano music for both one and two pianos. The works collected here are an eloquent overview of Dutilleux’s gradual refinement of his musical language.

His early Sonate (1946-8) is perhaps best described as post-Impressionist, inhabiting the lush yet fluid world of Ravel and Debussy with several knowing glances at the rhythmic vitality of Francis Poulenc. Already by 1950, Dutilleux is exploring birdsong in a sympathetic manner to Oliver Messiaen in the brief but charming “Blackbird.” Conversely 1976’s Figures de résonances demonstrates an awareness for innovations by the Postwar avant-garde. This work, which features both pianists, is a stirring essay in sostenuto verticals, with dramatic outbursts followed by an intricate unfolding of reverberating overtones. A collection of preludes from the 1970s and 80s, as well as 1981’s Petit air à dormir debout distill this intricate vocabulary into limpid miniatures. The preludes combine moments of exquisitely shaded delicacy with ferocious outbursts.

With ardent performances and captivating sound throughout, D’ombre et de silence serves as an excellent introduction to this talented elder statesman’s music.

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