September 15, 2019
by Allan J. Cronin
“Third Coast handles this work, as they do with all they approach, with thought and virtuosity.”
Philippe Manoury (1952- ) is a French composer who worked at IRCAM and is professor emeritus at UCSD. Knowing just these facts I must admit that I let this one languish a bit before giving it a good listen. I was just not ready for some obtuse Boulez-oriented complexity. But Manoury is nothing if not original and even if his music has complexities it does not fail to communicate very well to the listener. My apologies to Third Coast Percussion and the ever interesting New Focus recordings for the delay now that I’ve put my fears to rest and given the music a chance.
There are two works on this disc, Le livre des claviers, Six pieces for 6 percussionists (1987) and Métal for sixxens sextett (1995). The first piece, which translates as, “Book of Keyboards” invites connotations of monolithic masterpieces such as Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier, Boulez’ Livre pour Quatuor, or any of a number of pieces with such aspirations that have the word “book/livre” in the title. The second piece is strikingly similar in sound to the first and is a fitting companion on the recording.
Indeed the 6 movement Livres is a monumental work but its aspirations are to produce a lovely and complex set of pieces for percussion sextet. Third Coast handles this work, as they do with all they approach, with thought and virtuosity. This is not a grandiose attempt to create a landmark of western music but rather to add to the oeuvre. The same can be said for the later work which follows it.
While Manoury has worked with electronics and computers, none of that is in evidence here. This is purely acoustic, just six virtuoso percussionists and the music is well crafted and shows off the composer’s inventiveness as well as giving these fine young musicians something to show off their considerable skills. It is absolute music (ie music for the sake of music) and if there are metaphorical aspects they are not immediately evident.
Doubtless there are complexities here, most of which lay beyond the ken of the average listener (your humble reviewer included) but the joys of the sounds and the lucidity of the writing make for an enjoyable experience. It’s not the minimalism of Philip Glass, nor the complexities of Boulez, nor the dissonances of Xenakis. This is intelligent, approachable chamber music that will speak to the listener who allows it to unfold.
The first piece has six movements which are named simply for the instruments called for in the score:
- 6 Thai Gongs and 2 Marimbas
- Marimba Duo
- Vibraphone solo
- 6 Thai Gongs and 2 Marimbas
As you can see, not all six percussionists are kept equally busy throughout. Each movement seems to have its own character and probably a great deal of complexity which will entertain and perhaps frustrate musicologists. All in all a very entertaining work.
The second work coming in at just over 22 minutes is cast in a single movement and has a more pensive quality. It does require attention and, like all good music, reveals more on repeated listens.
The recording is, as always with New Focus, lucid and complementary. This recording also serves to demonstrate the incredible range of this rapidly rising star in the percussion players universe.
Be not afraid, this is great stuff.