OPA MIA 1987/1989
Eloge de la radio 1999/2000 (In Praise of the Radio)
LIBÉRATION, 17 December 1993
A pianist and a magician teaming up: the idea might appear formal, a way of staging a recital, enticing the public by promising it that, for lack of something to hear, it will have something to watch. Thankfully, Denis Levaillant's latest show dispels that fear. Piano Circus is a fable of the pianist, the pianist grappling with his repertoire. Grappling with his anxieties (damaging his fingers), with his fears (playing worse than with his feet). All that in order to create, in his own way, an illusion, some magic: make sounds appear, organised and complicated, playing with the pedals, taking advantage of the spectators' auditory perception, in complicity with the composer. All this fairly subtle matter is the framework of Piano Circus, a familiar framework for Denis Levaillant who has always spoken of his piano, his gods (Liszt with his octaves and arpeggios) and his sequence of movements. A framework he manages to express musically very well, on the one hand with his knowledge of electroacoustics, for making an effect suddenly appear from a loudspeaker at the precise second, perfectly amplified, and, on the other hand, with the music he interprets. And that is the show's primary asset. For there are two ways of approaching the pianist's inner thoughts. The laughable way, that of Bernard Haller ("this piano: a pan for spuds!"), or else the musical way, by Denis Levaillant. No "extract of Beethoven" or "Chopin juice", but personal compositions verging on Conlon Nancarrow with their rapid delivery, with a few temptations at seduction (e.g., a passage à la Keith Jarrett, full of irony). It takes some daring to give us music like this, an uncompromising flow of notes.
Musical show, including Les Pierres Noires, Sunny Cash Passion, Compassion, Madrigaux de Guerre and Tombeau de Gesualdo.
Musical show, piano pieces written for a program of very old Pathé movies (1910).
Musical show, including 12 Mouvements, Piano Transit and Souvenirs de Félicité .
PARIS NORMANDIE, 22 January 1989
Straightaway, the obvious fact: Denis Levaillant is a creator. From a good old piano, he draws things that are personal to him while anchoring them deeply in a history, a continuity with an art of possession, unheard-of sensuality and an extraordinary pianistic gesture.
Denis Levaillant caresses the piano, curls up in its sonorities, superb undulations or soft aggressions. His "12 movements" for solo piano are so many bursts of music, each built on one idea. Resonance studies in the hollow of the sound. Preludes open onto infinity, sculpted in full matter. And always this art of possession that borders on the narcissistic.
Poetry for the year 2000
Change of style. Piano and piano. One "live", the other manipulated on tape by computer. Confrontation again narcissistic and appropriation. Still this touch of the mirror-instrument, which transports the least informed listener. Subtle correspondences, with a spatialisation of sounds. Brainwaves, like these peeping high notes in the two pianos. Resonances, a dynamic, sound clusters, poetry for the year 2000.
Change of style. It's incredible the way Denis Levaillant appropriates the best of what exists. From jazz, this time: Charlie Parker and lots of others, bent to his will. Although, in Piano Transit, the necessary co-ordination between the machine - by that I mean the tape running at a determined speed - and the instrument played live limits the performer's freedom, the following piece could last for eternity in the wake of jazz - for Denis Levaillant changes music like clothes, the artist letting his imagination wander and blossom.
Possession of music. Possession of self and others. Possession of creation. The art of possession.
Musical show for jazz trio, with Barre Phillips and Barry Altschul.
Le Dernier pélerinage (The Last Pilgrimage)1986
Musical show, last pieces from Franz Liszt, for piano, string quartet and voice.
LE MONDE DE LA MUSIQUE, November 1986
In a rather daring staging by Christian Colin, Denis Levaillant (piano), Brigitte Vinson (mezzo-soprano) and the Ami Flammer Quartet offer a long reverie that is sometimes sublime, often disturbing. This is a very arid journey, for the particular diction and density of these short works glitter with extreme penetration. These pages, where the sonority becomes thinner, give way to radical, impersonal, archaic power. Liszt experimented with pure rhythm, monody and the collapse of all consonant stability. Implicitly, almost clandestinely, the range of nuances remains the final ruins of a heretofore grandiose rhetoric and an infinitely more argumentative tone.
Denis Levaillant's approach is one of tense sobriety, slightly lofty but of rare pianistic mastery. His greatest merit is to make us, in the space of a journey, look straight in the face the extraordinary light that suddenly appears from a nothingness that Liszt, more than anyone else, fought against.
Musical show for jazz sextet (Kenny Wheeler, Tony Coe, Yves Robert, Barre Phillips, Pierre Favre).
Inside was unquestionably the most disconcerting contemporary premiere of the weekend. Thoroughly original in its form, Denis Levaillant's composition for sound-effects man, cello, trumpet and tape gives birth to a new genre, combining theatre with music. A sort of modern theatre in which the actor takes on the role of sound-effects man. The chronology opens on a set that could be the traditional framework of a hotel room, in which arrives, loaded down with two valises, the runaway (Louis Amiel), a pathetic sound-effects man who is desperately trying to give up the name of stand-in. This is therefore no longer an operational sound-effects man, but a man whose fantasies come from his trade.
Musical show (melodrama for a voice and piano), text by Maurice Roche.
Hearing Caroline Gautier recite Lenau's ballad Der traurige Mönch or one by Bürger with such total commitment, so far from this tongue-in-cheek approach resorted to by those who dare not let themselves go to romantic excesses, receiving Denis Levaillant's piano commentary headlong, sometimes between two phrases, sometimes beneath a few verses, sometimes developed, sometimes reduced to a few notes, one had the impression of being carried back to the 19th century, in the chiaroscuro of a friendly drawing room with the composer improvising at the piano. The whole piano part is written out, yet it does not seem to be: there are few developments but, to the contrary, a succession of dramatic gestures that are always evocative. The recitation, on the other hand, is not fixed, and it is to the credit of Caroline Gautier, trained as a singer, who is able to model her voice, sometimes modelling inflexions on the melody of the accompaniment, so that the poem remains basically understandable despite the language barrier (a summary is given beforehand), thanks to the straightforward contours of the vocal line.
This "musical voyage starting from Franz Liszt" ends with an excerpt from the Weinen, Klagen Variations on the Bach theme, as he had begun with an arrangement of Sunt lacrimae rerum. The arranger being arranged, one might say, but this evocation, of which Michel Hermon realised what he calls "putting into images", given the crampedness of the stage, but which could indeed be a musical staging (the pianist as full-fledged actor), so skilfully avoids pretension and attests to such obvious involvement on the part of the performers within the morbid, impassioned Romantic universe, which they strive to bring back to life, that the show and the intellectual aim disappear behind the new-found spirit.
*Translator's note: a reference to the French film L'arroseur arrosé (Louis Lumière, 1895), which featured the first gag in the history of cinema.
LIBÉRATION, 26 January 1978
I remained dumbfounded, surprised and happy to hear and see a musical show of a kind all too rare.
The music is magic, a note, a melody, and the head plunges to forget the previous instant under the bloody freezing rain. Denis Levaillant at the piano and Pierre Rigaud on saxophone make us hear magic by showing it to us: their duo is accompanied by a lovely lady and a handsome gentleman who, like at the circus, produce ping-pong balls from their mouths without our knowing how in the world they were able to store up a dozen of them. They juggle, catch, throw, miss and bow, and their show is music, which goes with the piano and sax! The falling ping-pong ball will mark the rhythm. Sometimes it even bounces hard on the piano strings, adding to the notes. This is not a matter of music on one side and jugglers and magicians on the other. We are listening to music of gestures and sound. The theatrical space becomes musical.
Denis Levaillant, the composer of most of these duos, trails us around in a sound universe that brings to mind pianist Paul Bley, with its atmosphere that is at once classical, rigorous and utterly mad. Yet their duo always carries us into thoroughly original creations that are theirs alone. A final word: laughter is permanent, heaving, like a musical counterpoint sent by the spectators, and seeing people who do not take themselves seriously gives one even more freedom for letting go.