About this Recording
8.555347 - PRIN: Dioscures / Ephemeres / Le Souffle d'Iris
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Le souffle d'Iris was written for flute in C, at the request of Pierre-Yves Artaud, and composed during August 1985 and 1986 in Aix-en-Provence. Although the work is continuous, three movements can be discerned. Breath, as a language and as the mixture of colours in an illumination, led Prin to take into account the values which the mythological Iris symbolizes: lover of Zephyr and mother of Eros, she represents, like the rainbow, the link between gods and men, the sky and the earth. The instrumental virtuosity of the soloist is enriched by specific technical innovations, such as blowing into the instrument, the sound of the keys, flutter-tongue and whistle-tone, with the traditional method of playing still present. The orchestral part reflects the traditional concerto balance: set in opposition to the solo part, it uses the same basic material, only occasionally taking over the themes of the flute.

Breathy flute arabesques launch the opening Moderato section, tremolo strings entering to heighten the suspense. The soloist begins a more extended reverie, though frequent leaps prevent an unbroken melodic line from emerging. Wind and percussion build up a crescendo of activity, after which a more sustained theme threads its way through lower strings, moving to the brass in a short-lived climax. Tension ebbs away, and as the soloist's opening gestures return, the Andante section starts with a held chord in the upper strings, its sense of space enhanced by subtle changes of harmony. Moving centre-stage, this fades out over a bass-drum roll, the soloist joining the orchestra in an expressive discourse which marks the mid-point of the work. The capricious Finale section now gets under way, its progress underscored by telling percussive touches. At length the music opens out expressively, fervent strings and brass inciting the flute to an impetuous cadenza. The closing pages combine lyricism and resolution, moving to a brief climax, before the final solo gestures quickly taper into silence.

The origin of Ephémères goes back to 1972 when Prin wrote a work for solo violin. Action-Reflex I consists of a succession of episodes which the soloist can interchange according to decisions chosen at that instant. The instinct of the moment presents the work as if by reflex action, hence the title. This work, revised in 1992, became Mémoire d'Ephémères. In 1973, on a commission from the O.R.T.F. for its chamber orchestra, Prin orchestrated the first version as Action-Reflex II, for violin, strings and percussion. The soloist's material remains the same, but the course of the piece is now determined from the outset. Dissatisfied with the orchestration, Prin reworked it in 1992 as Ephémères. The orchestra no longer provides a rigorous counterpoint to the soloist, rather a sustained harmonic backdrop. Only the piano remains from the percussion, while the strings are extensively subdivided. The solo part is very virtuosic across all the registers, as well as using various playing techniques. Prin sought in the orchestral part to pay homage to the composer he most admires, Maurice Ravel.

A sustained chord in the violin's upper register introduces rich harmonies in the orchestral strings. Despite virtuosic gestures, the mood is predominantly subdued, with full, expressive textures. The soloist engages in rapid exchanges with the piano, breaking up the momentum, before launching a propulsive cadenza, which culminates in a sustained lyrical flight. Strings re-enter unobtrusively, joining the soloist in music of nocturnal unease, underpinned by a capering rhythmic motion from the piano. The texture thins out, quickly to re-emerge with renewed intensity as the soloist's cadenza material moves the work through to its brusque closing gestures.

After four years of silence, marked by the wish to leave serialism and overtly systematic thinking behind, Prin wrote Dioscures at the request of Yves Petit-Devoize, director of the Festival des Arcs 1977. A passage from Chapter 10 of Michel Tournier's book Vendredi ou les limbes du Pacifique, ‘Dioscures, beings fallen from the sky like meteors, the outcome of an intense and sudden birth. Their father the sun blesses them, and his flame envelops and confers eternity on them’, marked the precise source of the work's genesis, its form and structure. The trio of flute, clarinet and violin is complemented by two parallel orchestral groups: the strings play the same music without rigorous synchronization, as, to varying degrees, do the pianos, harps and percussion. This duality generates the tension/release of the first part, the intensifying exchanges of the second and, in the third part, an expressive freedom as in a dream of eternity realised. The musical material, while often seeming disparate, even fragmentary, actually constitutes a coherent, recognisable sound-world throughout.

The work begins with the disembodied sounds of gongs and the piano played from inside, the cello entering with a rapt cantilena. The solo flute sounds a pensive rejoinder, followed by a similarly circumspect contribution from the clarinet. Dynamics gradually increase in intensity, culminating in the piercing sound of upper woodwind. This dies away, and a livelier motion ensues, with cello, flute and clarinet all drawn into the percussive melée, before calm returns. A pause, and the music continues over sustained harmonies in the lower strings. Textures swell and fall in density, finally leaving the three soloists in lyrical accord. The final pages find Prin's expression at its most eloquent, with only the briefest of flurries in the flute to ruffle the closing calm.

Richard Whitehouse

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