Éric Tanguy: Cello Concertos Nos. 1 & 2

Anne Gastinel; Orchestre National de France/Altinoglu (Naïve V5078)

Release Date: November, 2007 4 stars

Tanguy 'Cello Concertos The latest addition to the discography of Éric Tanguy – one of the most active and exciting composers of the post-Grisey generation – consists of his first and second cello concertos, performed by the equally exciting soloist Anne Gastinel. Whilst the recording is notable, not least, for its interesting exploration of the possible modes of interaction between soloist and orchestra in the concerto form, it is the freshness and the immediacy of the composer's writing for cello, coupled with the performer's understanding of the score, that makes this release a worthwhile investment.

Tanguy studied composition under Radulescu, Malec, and Grisey, and has produced over 80 works thus far. His First Cello Concerto was premiered in 1995 and updated in 2006, whilst the second was commissioned by Rostropovich, first performed by him in Reims in 2001 and toured around the US by him in the years preceding his death. Tanguy is himself a violinist, although his familiarity and skill with the cello (it was at a cello exam that he first met Gastinel) are evident at every turn of both concertos.

The second concerto, with which the disc opens, begins with an expressive adagio theme which is taken up by the strings in quasi imitation and which wends its fractured way through the orchestra. This sets the tone for one of the most interesting elements of both this work and, to a lesser extent, the first concerto – the exploration of possible means by which the orchestra and the soloist interact. Whilst there are occasional touches of the more traditional statement/restatement pattern, the works seem really to be studies in a refusal of this design: themes from the cello are refracted into the orchestral parts; the cello sits at the bottom of large orchestral textures; the soloist or the ensemble corrupt one another's themes note by note in order to force or to hinder development; throughout the work new modes of interaction are forged. All the while, however, this occurs in a texture which is largely devoid of more typical instrumental counterpoint. At first this seems like a failure. However, given the propulsion which Tanguy maintains without such counterpoint (due in part to his deft rhythmic handling), such a lack really points to the quality of his achievement – focussing textural interest on the interaction of roles, and not just on the interaction of lines.

Both concertos are also notable for their imaginative and ever-changing palette of colours. Both scores exploit an incredibly ornate and rich range of colours and hues dappling in and around the lines of the cello, colours created through innovative and imaginative instrumental combinations and playing techniques. At the same time, the scores cannot be said to be intimate – the scale of the instrumentation, the expansive gestures, and the sheer volume of interjecting lines, colours and comments all ensure that the score resembles the glimmering light inside a cathedral rather than the small scale detail of a painting.

The colour with which these scores shine is also due, in part, to the virtuosic manipulation of the cello's differing ranges and the vastly contrasting characters which emanate from it as a result. In scoring a part which wildly twists and spills through these tessiture, Tanguy was placing the successful performance of his works at the mercy of his soloist. Fortunately, Gastinel doesn't disappoint, excelling in shifting from the warmth of her mid-range to the glassy cool of the high-end, before dropping to the rich and growling bass which cuts through the depth of the orchestra. At the same time, she balances the long and soulful melodies (which owe, I suspect, something to do with Tanguy's view of Rostropovich's playing) with the short and fragmented snatches which comment on, distort, interrupt or reinforce the orchestra's corresponding gestures. Similarly, Alain Altinoglu and the Orchestre National de France joyfully paint Tanguy's canvas with the requisite light, dark, and colour. Their rhythmic impetus is tremendously important in the first concerto – generally a more driven and rhythmically dynamic work than the second – and their closing bacchanal is particularly thrilling. Altinoglu clearly understands that the key relationship under question is between the soloist and the ensemble, and he allows their free interchange in a stimulating and flexible environment.

This is an excellent recording of two very interesting works. They might not be life-altering, but they are finely-crafted and intricate examples of works by a thoroughly inventive and original composer.

By William Lockhart