Dialogues : Nicolas Baldeyrou (clarinet): CD

This review was published on: March 9th 2021

The following review is taken from the Spring 2021 issue of Clarinet & Saxophone magazine. For more reviews, news, and features from the single-reed world, join to receive our quarterly magazine and other membership benefits.

Nicolas Baldeyrou (clarinet)

This fascinating disc focuses on the two clarinet works by Pierre Boulez, Domaines and Dialogue de l’ombre double, bookended by two works for solo clarinet, Bruno Mantovani’s Bug and Michael Jarrell’s Assonance.

Growing out of a composition challenge Boulez set his Basel students in the early 60s, Domaines was premiered first in a solo version in 1968 by my own teacher, Hans Deinzer. It is played here in its two accompanied versions, Original and Miroir (respectively lasting 18’09” and 15’44”) for clarinet solo and an ensemble of 21 instrumentalists from the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France.

One of the few compensations of these months of lockdown has been Nicolas Baldeyrou’s expertly produced Facebook videos. Delight at his humour, open-mouthed admiration at his unbelievable clarinet technique, his consummate multi-tracking skills on horn, piano, percussion, as well as all clarinets in tasteful arrangements of all kinds of music, are now familiar to many. On this disc – three years in the making – his dedication and skill in contemporary music is put to the greatest test.

In the two versions of Domaines with ensemble, Baldeyrou lends this work of strict serialism a human face, alive both to its abruptly shifting dynamics and deft multiphonics. The ensemble commits with panache, especially the oboist Hélène Devilleneuve, and a bonus is hearing Baldeyrou himself playing the tricky bass clarinet ensemble part.

Boulez’s Dialogue de l’ombre double (lasting 17’) grew out of the orchestral accompaniments of Domaines in response to a scene in Paul Claudel’s play Le Soulier de Satin (1929, premiered in 1943). L’ombre double refers to the shadow of a couple projected onto a wall. Boulez’s musical reimagining, written for Luciano Berio’s 60th birthday in 1985, is realised by a single character in pre-recorded clarinet sections dovetailing with live sections. The recorded parts are subjected to reverberation (with a resonating off-stage grand piano) and projected around the audience by six loudspeakers. The clarinettist should ideally be in the middle of the space, so any recording should also create the impression of the sound travelling around the audience. Baldeyrou’s sound technicians achieve this admirably. His performance is superbly fluent, brave, and playful in his dynamics and articulation.

In its hyperactivity and manic articulations, Bug (1999) by the Italian composer Bruno Mantovani (born in 1974) reimagines the ‘Millennium Bug’, supposed to cause computer meltdown at midnight on 01/01/2000. Baldeyrou is supreme in the technical antics and provides soothing relief in its atmospheric conclusion.

The Swiss composer Michael Jarrell (born in 1958) gave the title Assonance to a cycle of works similar to Berio’s Sequenzas. His solo clarinet Assonance was written in 1983, used as a test piece for the Acanthes competition the following year. Baldeyrou is triumphant, realising its terrifying demands with ease, from slap tongues and super-altissimo to fast passagework and blistering articulation. His soft playing of Jarrell’s coda – surely one of the most beautiful and sublime uses of multiphonics written for clarinet – is a tour de force. This disc leaves me just as open-mouthed as his videos. It’s official: Baldeyrou is a musical phenomenon!

Nicholas Cox

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