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Jacques IBERT (1890-1962)
Film Music

Macbeth (Suite) (1948) [30.23]
Golgotha (Suite) (1935) [34.54]*
Don Quichotte (1933) [11.51]+
Henry Kiichli (bass) +
Jacques Tchamkerten (ondes martenot) *
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Adriano
Recorded at the Concert Hall of Slovak Radio, Bratislava, July 1989 (Golgotha), January 1990 (Don Quichotte and Macbeth)
NAXOS 8.557607 [77.19]


Adriano has scored another winner with this scintillating and thought-provoking Ibert disc. It was recorded a full decade and a half ago on Marco Polo and is now reissued in Naxos’s Film Music series and joins some luminous recordings in that series such as Yablonsky’s Shostakovich Hamlet, Stromberg’s recording of Steiner’s Mark Twain and Adriano’s own exemplary release of Honegger’s Les Misérables. Ibert was a consummate film music composer – subtle, tensile, avoiding cliché and easy gesture, capable of real élan in his orchestral or ensemble timbres and knowing just how to screw up or relax tension.

His music for Orson Welles’ Macbeth (1948) uses chamber forces and weird colours to just such effect. The Overture to the Suite (the meeting with the witches) is dripping with tension and employs a piano, percussion, celesta and violin harmonics to nerve-tingling effect. The flirting with atonality only increases the effect. Malign brass, jagged string writing, muted trumpet, and the impulse generated by the percussion are all part of his colouristic and rhythmic vocabulary, from those glowering brass chords in the Murder of Duncan to the strange muted string intimacies in the same scene. After the murder we can sample nasty sounding low brass and a malign kind of dance as the original martial music is subject – as it is throughout – to constant permutation and recasting. The sonorities for the Ghost of Banquo sound almost like a wind machine, so effective is Ibert’s writing – brass shiver, bass clarinet doom, off-kilter piano. And the final transfiguration of the March theme, heard throughout in different guises, comes in Macduff’s victory where the tension ratchets up incrementally until we reach a gloriously affirmative apotheosis.

Golgotha dates from 1935 and is heard here in Ibert’s own suite, with Adriano’s restoration of an important eight minute cut. Bold, vividly scored and full of brass bustle the characterisation level throughout is high. The opening movement, Les fêtes de Pâques, is a particularly long one – thirteen minutes – but very well sustained and full of incident and drama. The Biblical scene setting is, as one would expect of Ibert, the obverse of gaudy and self-satisfied; instead he hints at mercantile bustle, inserts a remarkable slo-mo moment for the Sellers in the Temple scene (which acts as a kind of Scherzo) and employs some wind effects for the difficult scene in Calvary. He does employ some baroque sounding brass calls in the Crucifixion but The Agony is not overdone; skirling strings, eruptive little lines but most particularly the spooky ondes martenot – which imparts more than its fair share of the extra-human to the later martial-noble sounding muse.

The most well known of this triptych is Don Quichotte, which has retained something of a hold in the repertoire and was most associated with Chaliapin. Adriano has rediscovered and orchestrated the Chanson de Sancho with a blast of music hall vitality. The others winnow down to five accompanying instrumental voices or vest swathes of cool Spanishry over the songs, well characterised by the bass Henry Kiichli. The most extrovert is Chanson du duc with its harpsichord and antique aria reflections, the most fully expressive the mournful Chanson de la mort.

The Slovak Radio Symphony sounds very well drilled in this repertoire; a lot of preparation has gone toward the success of the disc and it’s a pleasure to welcome it back to the fold, not least at such a tempting price.

Jonathan Woolf


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