Fleming gives radiant life to Dutilleux cycle with BSO

January 15, 2016 at 1:27 pm

By Aaron Keebaugh

Renée Fleming performed Dutilleux's "Le Temps l''Horloge" with François-Xavier Roth and the Boston Symphony Orchestra Thursday night. Photo: Winslow Townson

Renée Fleming performed Dutilleux’s “Le Temps l”Horloge” with François-Xavier Roth and the Boston Symphony Orchestra Thursday night. Photo: Winslow Townson

Le Temps l’Horloge, a symphonic song cycle by Henri Dutilleux, has a curious ending. “Time to get drunk!,” the translation from the French reads. “Don’t be martyred slaves of time: Get drunk! Stay drunk! On wine, virtue, poetry, whatever!”

In the final bars of the work, heard Thursday night at Symphony Hall in a performance by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, marking the American premiere of the final version, soprano Renée Fleming delivered radiant, whimsical phrases, as if caught up in the moment, intoxicated on the music itself.

Yet the final poem of Dutilleux’s delicious score is much more than an invitation to imbibe alcohol. Instead it is a call to enjoy life at its fullest through whatever means necessary. It made for a fitting conclusion to the piece, which was performed in celebration of the composer’s centennial this month. 

Dutilleux composed Le Temps l’Horloge for Renée Fleming in 2007 for another celebration, the 125th anniversary of the BSO. Clocking in at thirteen minutes, the piece cleverly depicts the imagery cast in poems by Tardieu, Desnos, and Baudelaire through music of mysterious beauty. 

As in Dutilleux’s symphonies, Le Temps unfolds in colorfully orchestrated passages that recall the work of Ravel. The sense of musical line is always present, the phrases weaving through dense clusters of sound.

Fleming provided the beating heart of this work. The superstar soprano long ago established a reputation as a versatile singer, and Dutilleux’s score makes deft use of her vocal style. The melodies tend to float about in her dark-hued middle range, yet dart into her gleaming upper register in sudden bursts of motion. 

She evocatively shaped the texts with subtle dynamic shading for an interpretation that delved beneath the surfaces of the poetry. “Le Masque” was haunting, with a hint of light shining on the word “sourire” (smile), Fleming’s line dancing fleetingly in her upper register, as if a passing thought.

The conductor, François-Xavier Roth, spun sensitive support, pulling out eerie, ominous chords from the ensemble. In the Interlude, the conductor shaped solid blocks of orchestral sound from a cold, lonely cello line.

Three selections from Joseph Canteloube’s Chants d’Auvergne were an additional treat. These songs are works of simple, arresting beauty, scored faithfully from folk songs collected from the mountainous region of southern France. 

Fleming’s singing of “Brezairola” was soft and radiant. “Malurous qu’o uno fenno” had a dance-like energy, Roth coaxing playing from the orchestra that had rustic verve. But the gem of this setting was “Baïlèro.” Fleming’s voice was breathtakingly gorgeous in the song’s faint echoes.

Book-ending the program were ballet scores by Debussy and Stravinsky. 

Though obscured over a century ago by the riotous failure and immediate turn-around success of the Rite of Spring, Debussy’s Jeux remains a popular concert item. 

The kaleidoscopic score moves in formless episodes. Roth, conducting in a Boulezian manner without a baton, kept a fine ear to the details, shaping the disparate chords that open the work with finesse and the fleeting themes with subtle fluctuations in tempo. 

The orchestra responded beautifully, with winds and strings coming together in glittering sheets of sound. The piece bloomed from fine contributions from solo woodwinds, and the brass supplied heft to the piece’s sudden bursts of energy. 

The most exciting playing of the evening came in Thursday night’s performance of Stravinsky’s Petrushka.  

Heard in its original 1911 version, Stravinsky’s gnarly and prickly score is a brilliant work of rhythmic interplay.

Roth conjured a world of sounds from the orchestra. Cellos and basses put across side-winding rhythms against shrieking woodwinds. Chords oscillated back and forth like a rusty accordion, and sharp brass and percussion bursts erupted from the texture like thunder. 

As in the Debussy, Roth kept a fine ear to the details. The swirling phrases of the opening were played with energy and intensity while the squeezebox waltzes that follow were shaped as if tender song.

The highlights of this performance were the many fine solos, spearheaded by Vytas Baksys, who fancifully handled the twinkling piano part. Elizabeth Rowe’s flute melodies were folklike in their free-flowing style, and Thomas Rolfs’ trumpet performance of the ballerina’s dance was deftly rendered.

 The program will be repeated 8 p.m. Saturday at Symphony Hall. bso.org; 617-266-1200.

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