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Jacques IBERT (1890-1962)
Persée et Andromède (1921) [40'34].
La Ballade de la Géole de Reading (1920) [25'36].
Sarabande pour Dulcinée (1921) [4'02].
Annick Massis (soprano) Andromède; Philippe Rouillon (bass-baritone) Cathos/Le Monstre; Yann Beuron (tenor) Persée; Mélanie Moussay (mezzo) Thétis
Ensemble vocal fémenin du Conservatoire du Strasbourg
Strasbourg Philharmonic Orchestra/Jan Latham-Koenig.
Rec: Salle Erasme du Palais de la Musique et des Congrès de Strasbourg on 19th-20th June 2002 (Persée) and 8th-9th October 2001 (Ballade and Sarabande). [DDD]
AVIE AV0008 [70'31]

This disc represents an invaluable addition to the Ibert discography. It is a tribute to all involved in the preparation of this disc that it can be recommended wholeheartedly.

The recording is excellent throughout. Latham-Koenig's careful preparation means that every detail of Ibert's scores is audible yet expertly balanced. The recording range is wide, so the opening of 'Persée' (marked ppp) is barely audible, and the climaxes have all the space they require.

The Strasbourg Philharmonic Orchestra obviously feel at home in Ibert's often quasi-Debussian textures and gestures (try the opening of 'Persée' with its string tremolandi and flute arabesques).

'Persée et Andromède' (1921) is one of Ibert's six operatic works. As a dramatic offering, it mixes opera seria and opera buffa expertly. Andromède is under the guard of the monster Cathos. Persée arrives to free her, in the process killing Cathos. Under the influence of the monster's dying avowal of love, Andromède denies Persée, who departs: the requisite fairy-tale ending arrives when a Prince arises from Cathos's shell.

Ibert brings the story to life by a multitude of strokes of imaginative orchestration. The six Sea Nymphs (Néréides) greet the dawn, a mix between Wagner's Rhine Maidens and the female chorus of the 'Sirènes' movement of Debussy's orchestral 'Images'.

All of the three major roles are expertly taken (and special mention should go to Mélanie Moussay, who takes the small part of Thétis). The soprano Annick Massis is a fine, lyrical Andromède, who phrases and pitches well. Importantly, she sounds young and fresh. She is outstanding in her extended solo at the beginning of Act Two .

The bass-baritone Philippe Rouillon has a well-focussed voice and he ensures that the listener falls in sympathy with his character: the final duet (where he is the Prince) is tender and beautiful. Yann Beuron is an appropriately self-confident yet shallow Persée, full of ardent yet short-lived passion.

The orchestral 'La Ballade de la Géole de Reading' dates from 1922. Latham-Koenig reasserts his affinity with the music from the outset, setting up a flowing yet mysterious atmosphere. Cor anglais solos are excellent, conveying a plaintive aura. Some of the compositional devices used by Ibert are positively filmic: this is an entrancing piece which exudes much beauty.

The final piece on this disc, the four-minute 'Sarabande pour Dulcinée,' is a beautiful miniature, the opening providing an outpouring of French Romanticism after the initial typically delicate trills . The piece is imbued with a gentle tinge of melancholy. The excerpt is from a four-act ballet based on Cervantes' 'Don Quixote' and occurs at the point at which Dulcinée makes an appearance to comfort the hero. It is played here with real tenderness - only the occasional spotlighting in the recording detracts slightly.

This is an eminently recommendable disc of three little-known pieces in performances which lavish them with care and love. A triumph.

Colin Clarke


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