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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 

André JOLIVET (1905 – 1974)
Les Rarissimes de André Jolivet

Flute Concerto (1949)a
Trumpet Concerto No.2 (1954)b
Trumpet Concertino (1948)c
Piano Concerto (1949/50)d
Andante (1935)e
Suite française (1957)f
Rapsodie à 7 (1957)
Suite delphique (1943)g
Epithalame (1953)h
Lucette Descaves (piano)d; Fernand Dufrêne (flute)a; Marcel Delmotte (trumpet)bc; Ginette Martenot (ondes martenot)g; Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Françaiseab; Orchestre du Théâtre des Champs Elyséescde; Orchestre de l’Association des Concerts Colonnef; Ensemble ‘Madrigal’ de la Radiodiffusion Françaiseh; Ernest Bourcde, André Jolivetabfgh
Recorded: Théâtre des Champs Elysées, March 1955 (Flute Concerto), April 1955 (Trumpet Concerto No.2); Théâtre Apollo, February 1955 (Trumpet Concertino, Piano Concerto, Andante); Salle de la Mutualité, July 1957 (Suite française), November 1957 (Rapsodie), January 1957 (Suite delphique) and February 1957 (Epithalame)
EMI CLASSICS 7243 5 85237 2 0 [2CDs: 69:19 + 78:21]

 

It seems that EMI Music France are re-visiting their rich, yet long-neglected recorded archives, and are making some of their pioneering recordings from the 1950s available again, through this bargain-priced series Les rarissimes de ...

All these performances, recorded in the mid-1950s, have never been re-issued in CD format before. Several works, however, such as the Flute Concerto and the two Trumpet Concertos, have become quite well-known and popular. All the other pieces have remained unjustly neglected, although – again – some of them have re-appeared in more recent discs.

Both the delightful Trumpet Concertino and the superb Trumpet Concerto No.2 have been consistently championed by many trumpet virtuosos. Delmotte, however, was the first of them, followed by Maurice André who recorded them with the composer conducting again (Erato, first as a single LP with the First Cello Concerto on Side B, re-issued as part of a boxed set including a number of concertos by Jolivet [I wish that this set was – at long last – re-issued in CD format]), by Wynton Marsalis and Jouko Harjanne, to name but a few that come to mind. (For the anecdote’s sake, you will be delightfully surprised to read that the piano part in the Trumpet Concertino is played by Serge Baudo.)

Similarly, Jean-Pierre Rampal became the foremost exponent of Jolivet’s flute music; and he too recorded the two Flute Concertos with the composer (Erato again). In the meantime, many other flautists championed these pieces; but Dufrêne was the first to play Jolivet’s First Flute Concerto and the first to record it with the composer.

Jolivet really enjoyed composing concertos. He wrote twelve of them throughout his composing career : two for flute (1949 and 1965), two for trumpet (1948 and 1954), two for cello (1962 and 1966) and one each for ondes Martenot (1947), piano (1949/50), harp (1952), percussion (1958) and violin (1972). The latter is the only one that has never been recorded at the time of writing. To these twelve concertos, I would add the splendid Songe à nouveau rêvé (1970) for soprano and orchestra, actually another concerto in all but name (Erato’s magnificent recording should be re-issued as soon as possible). Besides the completely neglected Violin Concerto, which I have never heard, the Piano Concerto has not so far been particularly well served either by performers or by recording companies. Lucette Descaves, who gave the first performance in 1951 in Strasbourg with the composer conducting, recorded this fairly recent piece quickly after several performances. Some time later, Philippe Entremont, who gave the American first performance in New York in 1953, recorded it for CBS (as it was then known) with Jolivet conducting the Orchestre de la Société du Conservatoire (CBS S 75600, never re-issued, as far as I am aware). There exists a live recording of the Piano Concerto by Herman D. Koppel (on Danacord, if I am not mistaken). The Piano Concerto was written on a commission from the Radiodiffusion Française that requested works inspired, in one way or another, by the music of the French overseas dominions. (For that occasion, Raymond Loucheur composed his Rhapsodie malgache that was once fairly popular.) The concerto was sketched as Equatoriales (a rather Varèse-like title), the first movement evoking Africa, the second Asia and the third Polynesia, without being overtly programmatic. Though the actual musical content was retained, the composer dropped the exotic title and replaced it by the more abstract Concerto. This often vehement, frantic work displays a formidable rhythmic energy in the outer movements framing a beautiful, mysteriously atmospheric central movement. It is one of Jolivet’s works in which debts to his teacher Edgar Varèse are most evident. The first performance caused quite a stir and a notorious scandal, that – for the composer’s wife – ended at the local police station. A repeat performance several days later in Paris was warmly acclaimed. Spiritus ubi vult spirat! Nevertheless, the Piano Concerto has since remained the Ugly Duckling amongst Jolivet’s concertos, and it is now high time that a pianist of high calibre should consider it again.

The short Andante for Strings (1935) is actually the version for strings of the slow movement of Jolivet’s only string quartet. This beautifully moving work fared quite well, although it never achieved the same popularity as, say, Barber’s ubiquitous Adagio.

The genesis of Suite française of 1957 is worth re-telling. It was in fact written for a film directed by Edouard Logereau, planned as a travelogue through present-day France. Thus, the first movement evokes the Alps, the Rhone Valley and the Camargue. In the second movement, Brittany; the third the North and the Channel Coast; the concluding movement mixed landscapes from various French regions and some modern achievements, such as a nuclear power station, highways, jet planes, etc. But, and this is a big BUT, the film was shot to the music which was thus written first. The suite is Jolivet at his most accessible.

Rapsodie à 7 was actually written for the same instrumental set-up as Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat, albeit with a more important percussion part (Varèse’s heritage again). Here is vintage Jolivet, full of arresting ideas and powerful rhythms. Again, it has been regularly ignored by performers, although it was recorded in 1977 by Les Solistes de Marseilles conducted by Devy Erlih (Lyrinx 7707-008/9, not re-issued so far to the best of my knowledge).

The extraordinary Suite delphique of 1943 was originally written as incidental music to an adaptation of Iphigenia in Tauris by Euripides staged by the Comédie Française of which Jolivet was then musical director. It is scored for twelve players: seven winds, timpani, two percussionists, harp and ondes Martenot; and mostly based on Greek modes. This splendid score abounds with many imaginative instrumental touches, and is remarkably evocative, although at that time Jolivet had never visited Greece.

Finally, Epithalame, another Ugly Duckling in Jolivet’s output, has long been neglected, although there now exists a new recording (reviewed here by Gary Higginson last month). The front page of the score bears a dedication A ma femme, pour nos vingt ans de mariage. Epithalame, for vocal orchestra in twelve parts (sic), sets words written by the composer in which he uses some invented words and onomatopoeia, the latter often functioning as percussive effects or – at times – imitating string pizzicati. This is a quite complex score that does not yield its secrets easily. I am undecided about it; and I still do not know whether I like it or not. However, it is an impressive achievement and, no doubt, one of Jolivet’s most personal utterances which has still to be given its due.

Well, now, what about the recordings and performances? First, and most importantly, one has to bear in mind that they were made nearly fifty years ago. These recordings by Columbia in France were not always without fault; but they have been superbly transferred here so that the actual sound is still quite good. It is a bit on the dry side - one of the characteristics of these French recordings. The important thing, however, about the present re-issues is the quality of the performances, full of excitement at the discovery of works that were then quite new. Recent recordings of the trumpet concertos or of Epithalame are more brilliantly recorded and supremely performed. However these early performances, conducted either by the composer or that arch-champion of modern music Ernest Bour with soloists that have long been associated with these works, have an unmistakable flavour of authenticity and enthusiastic commitment. Not to be missed.

Hubert Culot



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