Guest Reviewer, Ateş Orga

Éric Tanguy was born in 1968, in Caen, Normandy – burial site of the Conqueror. Admired and mentored by Dutilleux (he was his guest at Tanglewood in 1995), he studied with Horațiu Rădulescu (Romanian/French spectralist), Ivo Malec (Croatian/French, Pierre Schaeffer-schooled), Gérard Grisey (another spectralist), and Betsy Jolas at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique in Paris. Skills, craftsmanship and broadening of mind he acquired from these teachers. But, fellow-traveller more than anything else, he’s never been an unquestioning disciple, he doesn’t follow any particular ‘school’, while as a young man having participated in several, including Darmstadt. On the evidence of this twenty-year chamber/piano retrospect, his is a voice characterfully his own, “imagination, poetry and an interior world” underlining a distinctive creative voyage. Sibelius, unexpectedly somehow, matters to him (how enlightening the Paavo Järvi years in Paris must have been): in 2017 he published a book with Nathalie Krafft, Ecouter Sibelius. “There is rigour and purpose behind my music,” he says – his intricate modal referencing for instance, going back to his Villa Medici years in Rome during the early-nineties. “But I don’t expect the listener to have to decode it … It’s the feeling that matters.” Jolas’s need to write the expressively beautiful and emotionally searching, regardless of styles, expectations or trends of the day, comes to mind … her pursuit of “the unpredictable fluidity of ‘buildings without seams’”. “Do not analyse my music,” Poulenc used to say, “love it!”. Tanguy the communicator would understand even if the teacher in him might hold back (succeeding a distinguished line of predecessors he’s been professor of composition at the École Normale de Musique de Paris Alfred Cortot since 2017).

Now in his mid-50s, Tanguy’s music (more than a hundred works published or on hire, Éditions Salabert/Universal) has been widely premiered and championed. By, amongst the many, Altinoğlu, Bychkov, Paavo Järvi, Ozawa, Plasson, Roth and Salonen (Matka, marking the 150th-anniversary of Sibelius’s birth [Ondine 1390-2]). The Capuçons, Gitlis, Gutman, Levit, Pahud, Pogostkina and Rostropovich (Second Cello Concerto, Flâneries musicales de Reims [Naïve V5078]). And the Orchestre National de France, Orchestre de Paris, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio-France, Boston Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Helsinki Philharmonic, Tokyo Sinfonietta, Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich, Sinfonia Varsovia and Wiener Kammerorchester. Oddly, though, his UK profile remains relatively low-key. A stint with James Dillon (1989). BBC National Orchestra of Wales, London Sinfonietta, Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Masterclasses at the RCM and RAM. Composer-in-residence at Steven Isserlis’s Open Chamber Music Festival, Prussia Cove (2015). Nothing to speak of at the Wigmore or Southbank Centre. Time for Roth to do something major with the LSO – a Barbican or BBC Prom perhaps.

“In a Dream” features a collective of performers intimately in touch with Tanguy’s aesthetic. Violinists Alexandra Conunova and Rosanne Philippens; violist Lise Berthaud; cellist Edgar Moreau; clarinettist Pierre Génisson; pianists Suzana Bartal and David Kadouch; Quatuor Diotima. In their different ways each catch his tensions and fantasy, identifying with the toughness his mind and his impressive architectural and colouristic sensibilities. Exposition, evolution and resolution is what Tanguy is about, not a note, pulse or spaciality wasted, not a cliche in sight, long-term trajectory paramount in the process. Listening to these scores, perusing the printed page, one becomes aware, physically, of the bones and muscle of his compositions – “especially,” as he puts it, “matters of pitch, harmony, melodic scansion, rhythm and form”. But also, spiritually, of his “desire for consonance which nonetheless is not based on the concept of tonality but really of modality”. Early in his development he took heart from Dutilleux’s comment “I like your music because it’s corrosive”. Corrosive in the sense of trenchant. “I hope to keep this singularity he found for a long time.”

Piano Quintet (2018-19). Commissioned for the centenary of the École Normale de Musique de Paris Alfred Cortot, Boulevard Malesherbes. Three sections, played without a break. “A multiplicity of ideas ceaselessly reworked”, Tanguy writes, “evoking distant worlds of poetry and imagination”. In a Dream, violin/piano (2013-14). Commissioned by the International Music Festival NIPPON 2014. The Anglified title-track of the album, its paysage de rêve refracted through “poetic as well as turbulent” light, its parameters conveyed in traditionalist wording: “several distinctive sections, the conversation conveyed by means of continuous variation”. Spirales, cello/piano (2016). Commissioned by ECHO and the Philharmonie de Paris. A lively rather than contemplative piece, “the idea of whirlwinds suggesting itself naturally in the writing, interplay and dialogue” between instruments. Nachtmusik, piano (2013). Dedicated to Suzana Bartal. A single-movement narrative structure, “cloaked in mystery at the outset, the dreamy quality gradually gaining in expressive intensity until the nightscape is permeated with flashes of richly sonorous lightning [before a] poetic and ambiguous conclusion.”

Rhapsodie, viola/piano (2017). Commissioned by the Aix-en-Provence Easter Festival. “The title alludes to the way in which the musical argument unfolds, both melodically and harmonically, with an overriding sense of melancholy … increasingly agitated … [an] ethereal, weightless coda.” Sonata Breve, violin (1999). “A homage to the instrument I played for many years, an expression of my intense love for it” – three movements, nine minutes. Lacrymosa, clarinet/piano (2013). “It was while I was finishing this score – a piece suffused with melancholy, ‘floating’ harmonies and strange colours – that I learned of the death of Henri Dutilleux, to whom I was fortunate enough to have been very close for more than twenty years. And it was on the day [23 May 2013] after he died that I completed it.” Piano Trio (2010-11) Commissioned by the cellist Cécilia Tsan. “A quasi continuous variation on a tiny motif of six notes [which further] generates all the harmony around which the work unfolds through a process of transformation of the musical material. Expressive solos and duets conceived as extensions, disappearances, or anticipations of the numerous trio sequences punctuate the piece.”

Personal in signature, Tanguy’s music gratifies, impresses, involves. Audiences will find plenty here to hold the attention, while executants will relish the technical and ensemble demands. He’s adept at creating viable, enduring musical journeys breathing an expanded climate and vocabulary. Something like Spirales (stunning playing from Conunova and Bartal) is a Ferris Wheel you won’t want to miss. Nor Nachtmusik (a Pandora’s box of colour, shadow, dexterity and pulverising weight, brilliant solar beams and pedalled moonlit tombs, ravishing one’s faculties, Bartal in supremely imposing form). The Piano Trio (Rosanne Philippens, Edgar Moreau, David Kadouch) gels organically, grippingly, high drama on the high seas. Tanguy’s way of contrasting lyric calm with pages of molten iron, the engine of the music rather than surface gesture tensioning the action into super gear is unmistakeable, witness Rhapsodie and the Sonata Breve. This last ought to be in every violinists’ repertory, as necessary, however differently cast, as Ysaÿe, Conunova delivering an impassioned award-winning mega tour-de-force of an account, her life depending on every note and nuance. Extraordinary.

Technically, the Piano Trio, recorded May 30 2021 (Salle Colonne), is a first release. Not though its first recording. That privilege, longer by ninety seconds, goes to Ambroise Aubrun, Cécilia Tsan (the dedicatee) and Steven Vanhauwaert (Arturo Rando-Grillot Hall, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, December 17, 2019). A physically ‘American’ realisation (“Chamber Works of Éric Tanguy”, Navona NV6451) is scheduled imminently. I wouldn’t want to be without either version. Erato 9029635566.