By Karl W. Nehring
Once in a while you take a chance and luck out. That happened to me recently when I was browsing through the new releases rack at my favorite public library and came upon a CD by a composer whom I had never heard of by the name of "Dalbavie." When I looked at the cover and saw that the recorded musical program comprised a piece with a French title and three concerti, my initial impression that Dalbavie must have been some obscure French Baroque composer for whom Icould not muster the first faint feeling of enthusiasm.
I was just about ready to put the CD back in the rack and move on when I noticed the vertical letters at the edge of the cover that spelled out "Seattle Symphony." I could not really imagine the Seattle Symphony, which has recorded the works of contemporary composers such as John Luther Adams, releasing a recording of some obscure French Baroque composer, so I took a look at the liner notes to discover that Marc-André Dalbavie (b. 1961) is a contemporary French composer of some renown on the Continent. Now my feelings of enthusiasm were fanned – but also my apprehension. Would his music be listenable, or would it be lamentable? Only one way to find out…
From the opening notes of La source d'un regard, (which can be translated as "The Source of a Glance," "The Start of a Look," or "The Way to Begin Looking") I was fascinated. The piece begins with a four-note chime motif – think of church bells – with the final note not what your mind expects. The effect is a bit jarring, but also intriguing. What is Dalbavie up to? Where is this going? As things develop, the piece, which was written under a commission from the Philadelphia and Royal Concertgebouw in honor of French composer Olivier Messiaen's centenary on 2008, moves along a delightfully musical path. There are no jarring dissonances, nothing to assault the ear of even the most conservative of classical music connoisseurs, just plenty of intriguing melodic and rhythmic motion to delight the senses. At one point, for example, the opening chime motif returns – but without the final note. The jarring effect of tbe "wrong" fourth note has been replaced by the jarring effect of its absence. Interesting! This is truly a fascinatingly delightful work, one that will give both your imagination and audio system a good workout – some mighty bass notes as well as plenty of orchestral color. The recording team has done a remarkable job of capturing a live performance in splendid full-bodied sound.
The Oboe Concerto, which was not recorded in a live public performance, features as soloist Mary Lynch, the Seattle Symphony's Principal Oboist. It is a lively, energetic piece in one movement. Again, there are no dissonances, but plenty of action as soloist and orchestra weave a colorful tapestry. I could not help but chuckle at one section where Ms. Lynch makes the oboe sound like a braying jackass – perhaps that does not sound enticing, but believe me, this is an enjoyable performance.
Next up is Dalbavie's Flute Concerto, with this performance (once again from a live concert) featuring another of the orchestra's own, Principal Flute DeMarre McGill, and once again we are treated to lively, colorful, and stimulating music that tickles the senses. I must confess that I generally avoid flute concerti (indeed, the worst live classical performance concert I ever attended featured flautist Eugenia Zuckerman, who managed to make Mozart unenjoyable. Mozart, for crying out loud!), but Dalbavie's is a good one.
The CD closes with the Cello Concerto, another "studio" (i.e., not a live concert) recording. The soloist for this piece, Jay Campbell (a member of the JACK Quartet) is not a member of the Seattle Symphony. And yes, once again we have music of great energy, but once again a feast for rather than an assault upon the ears. The playing by both soloist and orchestra is animated and expressive.
All in all, this is a quality CD. Interesting new music, excellent recorded sound, helpful liner notes that are actually printed so that even my 70-year-old eyes can read them, and a generous length of nearly 73 minutes. If you are willing to take a chance on a recording of a composer heretofore unknown to you, I hope you will feel as lucky as I did when I heard the fascinating French modern music by Monsieur Dalbavie.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below: