Thursday, 12 September 2019

A listening challenge: Philippe Manoury's large-scale musical fresco for piano duo and electronics in a stunning performance

Philippe Manoury Le Temps, Mode d’Emploi; GrauSchumacher Piano Duo, SWR Experimentalstudio; NEOS
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 12 September 2019 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
Some stunning playing in the world premiere recording of this challenging musical fresco for piano duo and electronics

For this new disc NEOS from the GrauSchumacher Piano Duo (Andreas Grau and Götz Schumacher) features their 2014 commission from French composer Philippe Manoury Le Temps, Mode d’Emploi (Time, Instructions for Use) for piano duet (two pianos) and electronics. The duo gave the UK premiere of the work in 2015 when Andrew Clements in The Guardian described it as a 'rigorous listening challenge'. On the disc the GrauSchumacher Piano Duo is joined by the SWR Experimentalstudio (live electronic realisation, Jose Miguel Fernandez and Dominik Kleinknecht, sound directors).(The disc is released on 27 September 2019)

Philippe Manoury studied composition with Max Deutsch (one of Schoenberg's first students in Vienna), at the Conservatoire National de Musique de Paris, and he studied computer-assisted composition with Pierre Barbaud, and joined IRCAM in 1980. His 1987 work for percussion sextet, Le Livre des Claviers (The Book of Keyboards), was recorded by Third Coast Percussion on New Focus Recordings [see my review].



Philippe Manoury's Le Temps, Mode d’Emploi is a large scale work in which Manoury examines time by treating musical time differently in each of the work's eight movements. The electronics is used to digitally transform the sound of the two pianos, Manoury describes it as surrounding the performers with four other pianos, these have a variety of timbres going right through to a percussive bell-like sound. On the disc it is sometimes difficult to tell what you are actually listening to, the performers all create a sound continuum which is very effective indeed.

The eight movements are laconically labelled 1, 2, 3 etc, and in each Manoury treats the different characteristics of time, so that the first movement is busy and turbulent, the second calm and contemplative and the treatment of time very much mirrors different psychological states so that the whole 'large musical fresco' forms a satisfyingly contrasting whole.

For all the talk about time, this is very much a work which explores timbre and textures with Manoury creating a striking array of dazzling textures in the pianos and the transforming them via the electronics, from honky-tonk piano right through to something more percussive, but the sound is always recognisably that of a piano transformed and the electronics does not add a separate timbral layer to the work.

The playing is equally dazzling and the GrauSchumacher Piano Duo provides us with a stunning amount of notes, often played very fast. The work is almost a digest of brilliant piano techniques, and for all the need for rigorous listening, and it does require that as it is not an easy work, you cannot but help be struck by the sheer virtuosity of the players. At times, the sound world approaches the inhumanly unfeasible world of the Conlon Nancarrow Studies for player piano.

Certainly not easy listening, this work is a remarkable re-invention of the piano duo form and receives a stunning performance from the GrauSchumacher Piano Duo and SWR Experimentalstudio. Be prepared for that 'rigorous listening challenge' but the work has its rewards.

Philippe Manoury (born 1952) - Le Temps, Mode d'Emploi
GrauSchumacher Piano Duo
SWR ExperimentalStudio
Recorded 15-19 February 2016, SWR Schlossbergsaal Freiburg, Germany
NEOS 11802 1CD [58.16]
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