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Dominique Lemai​̂​tre: De l​’​espace trouver la fin et le milieu

by Dan Barrett

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Thot 06:13
Mnaïdra 06:17
Plus haut 10:09


Cellist Dan Barrett releases a recording of works for cello by composer Dominique Lemaître. Lemaître (born in 1953), who has written more than one hundred pieces ranging from electroacoustic to vocal chamber music and from pedagogical to concertante works, is a composer of sensitivity and mystery. Aesthetically, his musical palette is tinged with sentimental moods, reminiscent of an early infatuation with recording studios and influenced by his thorough knowledge of the music of Claude Debussy, Edgard Varèse, Giacinto Scelsi, Maurice Ohana, György Ligeti, Gérard Grisey and Tristan Murail.

As for Lemaître’s musical philosophy and language, it is worth mentioning the underlying modality, the palpable attraction of pole notes, the distinct coloring of some light and shadow zones, the stratification of polyrhythmic play, the writing of singular tone sequences, the obsessive combination of relevant poly-textures maintained by loops or swirling effects – all gestures arranged through a practice of inner listening and realized in the privacy of his music studio located in Fécamp (a harbor town in Western Normandy).

Orange and yellow II (2013) for two cellos is a transcription for cello of the piece Orange and Yellow: Homage to Morton Feldman, originally written for two violas in 2009. The cycle explores homogenous duos that could almost be qualified as “stereophonic,” written for identical instruments – or voices. The title, Orange and yellow, makes reference to the eponymous painting created by Mark Rothko in 1956.

Thot (1994) for clarinet and cello alludes to the Egyptian god of scribes, but suggestions of immensity (the sand) and eternity are equally present. Thoth is a creator god, linked to the Moon, the nocturnal double of the Sun. He is also the master of writing, medicine, and liturgy. He is the divine record-keeper of the relationships between beings and things. As Claude-Henry Joubert notes, “Thus prayed the scribes of the 19th dynasty, and thus do the cello and clarinet express themselves as they rush past one another, prolong one another, like shadows, joining together only to go their separate ways the next moment, without idle talk.”

Claude-Henry Joubert remarks that:

“Mnajdra is a Bronze Age temple situated to the south of the island of Malta, the isle of bees or the isle of honey, as it was called in ancient times. Mnaïdra is a lyrical and robust piece. The cello speaks out on all four strings, an oration punctuated by premonitory pizzicatos. Each phrase is opened with a penetrating high B-flat, and it is to this note that it continually returns during the entire first part of the piece. It then wavers, and gathers itself into a diminished octave on the B-natural. The lyricism vanishes, lengthy sustains set in. Suddenly the A becomes the dominant force, illuminating the scene. It is with an embellishment of this note, the A, that the piece will end, in a long melody that soars across four drawn-out notes (A-flat, A, B-flat, B), a melody punctuated by pizzicatos of open strings. The high B-flat will return, five times, like a reminiscence, then will melt away into a harmonic of the A and the piece will fade away, high F-sharp perdendosi… This is a world that has passed, a presence that has disappeared, a voice that has gone silent but of which the echo lingers on, a memory.”

Lemaître openly acknowledges how fortunate he was to have known the famous French composer Henri Dutilleux (1916-2013) and to have received both his encouragement and his compliments. The score for Stances, hommage à Henri Dutilleux (2015) for cello and piano, dedicated to Barrett, which unfolds over roughly fourteen minutes, consists of sixteen adjoined sections made up of three tempos and three pitch reservoirs, which alternate regularly, all fashioned after the same model. This results in a general form that effectively calls to mind the poetic structure of the stanza: a personal meditation on an identical schema that can be seen throughout the piece.

The solo cello piece entitled Plus haut (“Higher”) picks up elements from the “concertante”-style piece Altius, a state-commissioned work composed in 1999 for Anne Gastinel and brought to life in Lyon in 2000 by the dedicatee herself. Made up of three adjoined sections, this solo piece seems to be driven by the same desire for ascension, for elevation, almost for levitation. Indeed, like Altius, which evoked a transition from the Earth element to the Air element, the soliloquy Plus haut seems to lead to a musical metaphor that describes the sensation one feels when leaving the ground.

With this prolific musician, listeners can hear the latent ambiguity that lies between consonances and dissonances, as well as the aesthetic ambivalence persisting between uniqueness and diversity, a principle favoring both melodic monologues (Mnaïdra, Plus haut) and mosaic orchestrations (Altius). So, overall, there is no doubt that Dominique Lemaître has the soul of a philosopher, particularly when dealing with time, as he is continuously À la recherche du temps suspendu (In Search of Suspended Time) – a book about his music in the 21st century, published in 2018.

-Pierre Albert Castanet (Translation: Chris Clarke, web version edited for length from liner notes)


released September 18, 2020

Produced by Brian Keane and Dan Barrett

Mixed and Mastered by Brian Keane and Jeff Frez-Albrecht at Brian Keane Music, Inc., Monroe, CT

Stances and Thot - Recorded at Carriage House Recording Studio, Stamford, CT, March 31, 2017, by Ian Callahan

Orange and yellow II, Mnaïdre, and Plus Haut - Recorded between March 2018 and January 2020 at Brian Keane Music, Inc., Monroe, CT, by Jeff Frez-Albrecht

Design: Marc Wolf, marcjwolf.com

Cover Image: Shot by Cerqueira (Unsplash.com)

Page 10: Gary Scott (Unsplash.com); Page 22: Andy Holmes (Unsplash.com)

Photo of Dominique Lemaître by Régis David Photo of Dan Barrett by Milton Fletcher, 2011

Essay by Pierre Albert Castanet (English Translation: Isabelle Deconinck)

Notes on the pieces: Pierre Albert Castanet (English Translation: Chris Clarke)

Bios edited and translated by Isabelle Deconinck

The scores Orange and yellow II, Stances: hommage à Henri Dutilleux and Plus haut are published by Editions Musicales Rubin (distributor Robert Martin)

The scores Thot and Mnaïdra are published by Editions Jobert (Editions Lemoine)




New Focus Recordings New York, New York

New Focus Recordings is an artist led collective label featuring releases in contemporary music of many stripes, as well as new approaches to older repertoire. The label was founded by guitarist Daniel Lippel (who is the current director), composer engineer Ryan Streber, and composer Peter Gilbert in 2003-4, and features releases from many of new music's most active performers and composers. ... more

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