Sylvain Chauveau: Nuage

Rather than following up his 2003 release, Un Autre Décembre, with similarly-styled piano miniatures, French composer Sylvain Chauveau has taken the road less traveled by issuing dramatically different releases like 2004's Your Naked Ghost Comes Back At Night (with Steven Hess), 2005's Down To The Bone (vocal-based Depeche Mode covers), and the recent mini-album S., an electroacoustic curio. Such ambitious risk-taking is laudable but that doesn't mean the results are always equally satisfying—I'll take the inviting Un Autre Décembre over the alienating S. any day. How nice it is, then, that Nuage's nineteen chamber pieces (soundtrack material for Sébastien Betbeder's films Nuage and Les Mains d' Andréa) shift the focus back to Chauveau's romantic sensibility. Performed by a small ensemble of viola, violin, piano, and electric guitar, the melancholy Nuage might be regarded as a stripped-down kin to Max Richter, Michael Nyman, or Rachel's.

Being soundtrack material in origin, some of the pieces are understandably fragment-like (“Troubles”) while themes reappear in different settings. Some are arranged for strings only (“Vers les Montagnes”) while others are piano (“L'Orée du Bois”). Surfacing at the disc's center is the anomalous “Fly like a Horse” where Chauveau layers guitars to hypnotic effect in a manner that distantly recalls Steve Reich's Electric Counterpoint. Though I've not seen the films, the minimal style and pensive mood of Chauveau's intimate pieces suggest that the films would likely be wistful, reflective, and nostalgic. One final note: as lovely as it is, one can't help but wonder why the thirty-five-minute Nuage couldn't have been paired with the twenty-minute S. as a single release, despite their extreme differences in character.

February 2008