When, in 1951, Henri Dutilleux presented his vibrantly diatonic First Symphony, Boulez greeted him by turning his back.That is Alex Ross writing in The Rest is Noise and Dutilleux's vibrantly diatonic Symphony is one of the works in a new five CD overview of his music. There is much notable music in the oeuvre of this underrated composer, and also a sub-text that is relevant to the challenges currently facing classical music. Dutilleux (b. 1916) reflects his fascination with time and memory in his compositions, and uses involuntary memory to link past, present and future. His music is certainly not retrogressive. But its message is that, despite Boulez, we cannot turn our backs on the past; a very relevant sentiment as classical music struggles with denying the past and reinventing itself as a child of the digital age.
Virgin Classics' Dutilleux box also includes his Second Symphony, the Cello Concerto composed for Mstislav Rostropovich, the Violin Concerto commissioned by Isaac Stern, and a stunning performance by the Belcea Quartet of Ainsi la Nuit - the latter work obviates back turning as its influences include Webern's Six Bagatelles and Berg’s Lyric Suite, as well as Gregorian chant. I paid just £18.99 for the set at classical independent Prelude Records; yes, it is cheaper elsewhere but I am happy to spend my money in a store where al-Kindī-style good vibrations mean music buying is still a pleasure. Dutilleux is one of several French composers who are worth a detour: others include André Jolivet, who was a friend of Dutilleux, and Maurice Ohama.
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