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Vincent d’INDY (1851-1931)
Jour d'été à la montagne (Pour orchestre à Henry Kunkelmann), Op. 61 (1905) [30:42]
La Forêt enchantée (Légende-Symphonie d'après une Ballade de Uhland à Pierre de Bréville), Op. 8 (1878) [13:36]
Souvenirs (Poème pour orchestre à la mémoire de la Bien-Aimée), Op. 62 (1907) [18:45]
Iceland Symphony Orchestra/Rumon Gamba
rec. 9-11 October 2007, Háskólabió, Iceland
CHANDOS CHAN10464 [63:25]
Experience Classicsonline

Primarily a pedagogue Vincent d'Indy bequeathed us a number of orchestral works that, on the strength of this disc at least, ought to be much better known. Certainly a quick Google reveals a paucity of d'Indy recordings so this, the first in a projected cycle, is most welcome. As for the Icelanders they are new to me but their British-born music director Rumon Gamba isn’t; his Malcolm Arnold overtures with the BBC Philharmonic (Chandos CHAN 10293) has given me great pleasure and must now be the benchmark in this repertoire.
So how does Gamba fare with d'Indy? The earliest piece here  is La Forêt enchantée, premiered in 1878. Despite being a fervent patriot d'Indy readily embraced Wagner, whose influence pervades this work from start to finish. Apart from the ripely Romantic orchestration there is also an echo of Tannhäuser in the knight Harald’s journey through an enchanted forest and his encounter with seductive elves.
It’s all very atmospheric, beginning with ominous timps and horn fanfares. And even though we expect ear-pricking realism from Ralph Couzens and his recording team this is something extra special Perspectives are entirely natural and d'Indy’s subtle orchestral palette is faithfully rendered. Gamba coaxes some ravishing sounds from his players, the ghostlier passages shimmering with detail.
Despite the obvious Wagnerian overtones there is a pleasing Gallic restraint – call it good taste, if you will – that prevents this music from sounding overblown. The orchestra sounds full-bodied, Harald’s martial rhythms and gallops nicely articulated. As for those nodal cymbal clashes they are stirring but never overdone. The finale as Harald drinks from the enchanted fountain and falls into a deep sleep, surrounded by a magic circle of elves, is as translucently beautiful as anything Debussy ever wrote.
Of course Claude Achille’s fingerprints are all over Jour d'été à la montagne, an impressions of a day in the Ardèches. The brooding C on the lower strings that ushers in ‘Aurore’ is a marvellous piece of scene painting, in some ways reminiscent of Richard Strauss’s Alpine ramble; just listen to how d'Indy conjures up the rising sun, the chirp of birds and the rustle of leaves. Yes, it’s a cliché but the composer brings a freshness and skill to this music that is irresistible. As sunrises go this is pretty impressive, as is the Icelanders’ consistently fine playing.
Although ‘Jour’ seems a touch Wagnerian at times there is a redeeming lightness to the writing. Once again the engineers have worked their magic, the folk dance and gathering storm superbly dramatic. But it’s Gamba who deserves the most praise for his seemingly intuitive pacing and phrasing; and, as tempting as it may be, he never succumbs to self-indulgence either.
In ‘Soir’ the scoring is more forthright than usual, the Gregorian chant reminiscent of Respighi’s Church Windows. Comparisons aside, there is little doubt d'Indy’s orchestral style has crystallised; it now has a strength and integrity of its own. As dusk approaches we hear pizzicato strings and a lonely horn before the music moves into a twilight world of gossamer lightness and muted colours. The gentle coda, a wisp of a thing, is sheer magic, played and recorded to perfection.
d'Indy returned from a conducting tour of the USA in 1905 to find his wife dying from a brain haemorrhage. Souvenirs, dedicated to her memory, is Wagnerian in its leitmotiv-like use of the ‘Bien-Aimée theme’ from his Poème des montagnes of 1881. The first movement is elegiac, the solo cello infusing the music with sadness, but then d'Indy resolves to celebrate their life together with a mix of nostalgia and affection.
Souvenirs is perhaps the most original work on the disc. There is a new transparency and purpose to the writing and Gamba judges the changes of pace and mood with great sensitivity. I must single out the solo clarinet and cor anglais, who phrase the Bien-Aimée theme with such feeling. And then there are the noble horns and solo cello, who also deserve a mention in despatches.
What a promising start to this cycle. Apart from bringing these neglected scores to new audiences this recording also confirms Gamba as a conductor to watch. The orchestral playing is exemplary, the engineering spectacular. In many ways this lovely collection reminds me of Seascapes (see review), where good production values also yielded memorable results.
A sonic and musical treat. Not to be missed.
Dan Morgan

see also review by Jens F Laurson



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