In Mémoire de vague Denis Cohen returns to purely instrumental chamber music after a long period dominated by voice and orchestra, ending in opera. The formation of the quintet is unusual : one wood, two brass, and two string instruments. The viola plays a major role almost throughout the whole piece. A constant in the works of Denis Cohen is the function of polarizing the language on one solo voice, as in particular in Les Neuf Cercles d’Alighieri for soprano and orchestra. The soloist is the mediator between compositional complexity and the immediate listening experience. Although written in one block of over twenty minutes, the piece has three main periods.

The first part is more developed and marked by the alternating of soft flowing textures of the ensemble and the inserts of the viola solos whose passages are as rapid as possible, pulsated by the accents of the wind instruments and the bass. The alternating principle is reflected in the constant changes of tempo.

Regular chords propel the work into the second part. A rustling polyphony of repeated notes surprises the listener. The music progresses and splits into two homorhythmic groups and is interrupted by the return of incursions by the soloist. The other instruments freeze on the same chord, which permits the development of a viola cadence.

The third phase is characterized by a more global treatment. Nonetheless, the viola passages increasingly stand out, while the rest of the quintet recalls the forms that have marked the piece from the beginning. The composition densifies, then yields in intensity, leaving room for the muted lyrical passages of the viola. Finally, the work gently subsides.

In Mémoire de vague Denis Cohen shows he is resolutely committed to an extremely elaborate compositional style. He explores in depth combinations of rhythm, melodic figures and mutations of timbre, and uses in this abundance of sound playing variations (tremolos, glissandi, harmonics, etc.) and muted brass transformations.
The instruments give the full range of their register, notably in high pitch. As in much of his music, Denis Cohen works with directional perception « where foreseeability remains possible ». Returning waves of the viola transmit this perception and recurring rhythms and melodies irrigate the musical flow playing with memory and the present moment.

Michel Rigoni