Listen blind and you’d never guess this was music by a Frenchman operating in the post-Boulez era, the best clues being the iridescent sonorities achieved throughout and the reliance on early Messiaen as a model for the paradisiacal element of the third movement of the Cello Concerto (2008). As Guillaume Connesson himself admits, Shostakovich, John Adams, pop and jazz mean more to him than his intellectualising predecessors, so it is perhaps inevitable that the great Russian should influence key moments in his own Cello Concerto. Of course Shostakovich was writing for Rostropovich in a very different, anti-hedonistic cultural climate. Connesson’s more accessible piece is dedicated to Jérôme Pernoo, who plays it here with evident authority and commitment.
Now in his forties, Connesson is a professional to his fingertips, and should you warm to the work of the classier commercial composers and orchestrators you may find his world wholly congenial. It is those sympathetic to the traditional contemporary music scene who might be taken aback by the brazenness of it all. Connesson’s retro, razzle-dazzle eclecticism knows no bounds: a bouncy rhythm borrowed here, a shiny instrumental effect there, glass harmonica and all. Dangerously familiar shards of Adams, Lutosawski et al can be the one ‘modern’ element enlivening a conventional romantic texture. Blink and Lucifer (2011) reverts back into Daphnis or Jeux or Spartacus or The Rite of Spring. The list is almost endless. For a ballet score contemplating Satan’s casting out of heaven alongside the legends of Prometheus and the Grail, Connesson would seem to have gone easy on the metaphysics.
Is his really a major voice? There’s no doubting the enormous effectiveness of the ballet music in particular. Unprofound yet glamorous and self-evidently danceable, it makes several recent full-length scores of its type seem that much thinner. But whatever happened to the old idea that a composer should craft an idiom if not indubitably new then at least indubitably his own? On its own terms the present disc is a conspicuous success. The Monte Carlo forces are galvanised by Jean-Christophe Spinosi into playing of fire and energy, and the booklet takes in a helpful composer interview. Non-sceptics should seek out the earlier Cosmic Trilogy (Chandos, 3/10), immortalising Connesson’s association with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and its erstwhile Music Director Stéphane Denève. DG’s sound is a little less spacious, its physical presentation oddly flawed. The album’s French-language text is not difficult to read but the English translation, grey then brown on grubbily framed off-white, is presumably not intended for the over-fifties. Perhaps we oldies aren’t expected to dabble in postmodernism. (Gramophone)