BBC National Orchestra of Wales Puts On Enterprising Programme

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Tanguy, Dusapin, Boulez. Robert Plane (clarinet), BBC National Orchestra of Wales / Otto Tausk (conductor). Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff. 25.2.2014 (PCG)

Éric Tanguy – Éclipse (1999)
Pascal Dusapin – Extenso (1994)
Pierre Boulez – Domaines (1968, revised 1974)

This enterprising programme opened with Éclipse by Éric Tanguy (born 1968), a sort of beefed-up Ravel impressionist tone-poem which conjured up plenty of nervous energy during its twenty minutes (it was written for an open-air performance during the total solar eclipse of 1999). But the lack of any substantial writing for solo instruments – presumably reflecting the circumstances of its première – meant that there was a certain lack of contrast apparent, and the absence of any percussion at all apart from the timpani seemed odd. The effect was rather like the score for a modern Hollywood epic, but with more musical substance; one would like to hear more works from this composer.

Extenso by Pascal Dusapin (born 1955) was somewhat confusingly entitled “Solo for orchestra No 2,” but seemed to be from very much the same mould as the Tanguy piece although the post-impressionist textures and harmonies were somewhat leaner – not altogether aided by the sometime shrill writing for the piccolo and ubiquitous trombone pedal notes. Again there were no real passages highlighting any instruments in solo writing, and the effect sounded rather like a more sinister Hollywood score – possibly a dark fantasy rather than an epic this time, particularly during passages featuring slow trombone glissandi and slow descending woodwind scales.

At the time of its first performance Boulez’s Domaines seemed very original and ground-breaking, with its division of the orchestra into six chamber ensembles each of which interact with a solo clarinet who moves around the stage between the various groups. The order in which each group plays is determined by the soloist, who selects which segment is to be played in the running order and then interjects his own response. After all six ensembles have played, the conductor then takes over and selects the running order, with the clarinet again moving to each section and playing a further cadenza-like passage. The work was originally written for clarinet alone, and it must be said that although the writing for each chamber ensemble is carefully contrived the double circuit of the stage means that the work seems to go on for far longer than its content would really merit. And the random order of the movements means that any sense of a cumulative journey, a sense of purpose in the music, is entirely fortuitous with – as Peter Reynolds’s always informative programme notes told us – 720×720 completely different ways in which the work could be organised. Robert Plane, moving around the stage in shoes that were not ideally designed to be soundless on the wooden boards of the hall, played superbly with a quite incredible range of dynamics and full command of the various techniques – fluttertongue, vibrato, chords, etc – demanded by Boulez; but even his evident commitment and the delivery by the various chamber groups of what Cornelius Cardew once described as Boulez’s “graceful hiccoughs” could not really convince one that a work once so revolutionary in its approach did not now sound rather dated.

Paul Corfield Godfrey