Ernest Ansermet

Dutilleux: Symphony No. 1; Martinù: Symphony No. 4

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Listeners frequently complain that modern composers didn't write accessible pieces, but that is certainly not the case with the two mid-20th century works on this Radio Suisse Romande album. The muscular Symphony No. 1 (1950-1951) by Henri Dutilleux and the sumptuous Symphony No. 4 (1945) by Bohuslav Martinu are recognizably modern, and their energetic counterpoint, bracing harmonies, and assertive characters make them works of their time and no other. Yet neither Dutilleux nor Martinu participated in the serialist avant-garde of their day, but worked instead within a more traditional symphonic method that admitted tonal centers, memorable melodies, decipherable rhythmic patterns, and even triadic harmonies as part of the musical discourse, all without falling back on Romantic norms. But beyond the theoretical aspects that make these pieces much easier to grasp than, say, contemporary works by Boulez or Stockhausen, Dutilleux and Martinu wrote with clear passion and powerful expression, so the music in both works communicates directly, and the inspired performances by Ernest Ansermet and his Orchestre de la Suisse Romande bring these important symphonies to life. Ansermet knew both composers personally and was a strong supporter of their works, and his dedication is evident in the concentrated energy and precision he elicits from the musicians. RSR's digitally mastered analog sound is clean and vibrant, but it has a wide dynamic range, so passages marked pianissimo are quite soft on playback.

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