Ensemble Zellig / Radio France Orchestre Philharmonique / Jonathan Stockhammer

Thierry Pécou: Symphonie du Jaguar; Vague de Pierre

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Two large pieces are featured on this CD devoted to the music of French composer Thierry Pécou. Symphonie du Jaguar, a nearly 40-minute four-movement work scored for orchestra and an unusual combination of soloists -- clarinet, trombone, violin, cello, and five women's voices -- is inspired by ancient Mayan mythology. Pécou employs a full arsenal of modernist techniques, including a dense tonal language, angular lines, and extended instrumental and vocal techniques. Because he makes extensive use of repeated ostinatos, and because much of the piece is rhythmically regular, it doesn't come across as dauntingly difficult as it might. Instead, much of it has a driving, visceral impact, and evokes a wild primitivism. The composer conceived it as a ritual, so the visual effect of the performers' movements could make it even more impressive in live performance. The four movements of Vague de pierre (Stone Wave), for orchestra, are reflections on writings on Chinese painting of the Manchu dynasty, by turns fiercely primal, mysteriously ethereal, and nervously frenetic. Here, too, Pécou's language is forbidding, but he creates gripping dramatic contours and uses an array of unusual orchestral colors that grab and hold the listener's attention. Written in 2007, five years after Symphonie du Jaguar, it's overall a more confident, coherent, and expressive piece. Both works receive outstanding performances by Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France. The first is conducted by François-Xavier Roth, with soloists from Ensemble Zellig, and Jonathan Stockhammer conducts the second. The recordings were taken from live performances, so there are some ancillary noises, but the sound is clear and lively.

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