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Arthur HONEGGER (1892-1955)
Prelude pour Aglavaine et Selysette (1917) [7.46] +
Suite archaique (1951) [14.45] *
Jacques IBERT (1890-1962)
La Ballade de la Geole de Reading (1921) [25.23] +
Bacchanale (1958) [8.10] +
Louisville Concerto (1953) [11.23] *
The Louisville Orchestra/Robert Whitney * Jorge Mester +
rec. 1954 (Louisville Concerto), 1961 (Suite archaique), 1969 (Préude pour Aglavaine et Selysette), 1970 (Bacchanale), 1973 (La Ballade de la Géole de Reading). ADD
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The resurgence of the Louisville recordings may be unexpected to some but it’s nevertheless still very valuable. Many of the things they set down still haven’t been recorded by any other label and if that’s not quite the case here - you may well remember, for example, Louis Frémaux’s excellent Ibert disc in the 1970s containing both the Bacchanale and Louisville Concerto – then these were still the first off the blocks.
Anyone remotely curious about Honegger and Ibert will want to get acquainted with this disc. The Prelude pour Aglavaine et Selysette may be early Honegger – he was 25 – but the impressionistic sweep and burnish of this will give some inkling as to the most powerful influences on him in these years. It’s hardly characteristic of the mature composer but the heavy Debussian melos and the brooding lower string power (a late Wagnerian inheritance) is impressively delineated. You will also note in passing here, and especially in the Ibert Bacchanale, that there is tape damage and that no amount of restoration can quite disguise it.
The Suite archaique dates from 1951 but is a much more backward and nostalgic affair strong on hymnal reflection and chorale imperatives – the trumpet solo will put you in mind of the second symphony. The neatly harmonised archaisms are deftly done, not least in the grotesquerie of the Pantomine second movement, which has the rhythmic brio and colouristic sheen of a sportive scherzo. Austerity and increasingly yearning warmth characterise the finale. Neither of these is top drawer Honegger, clearly, but both are worth getting to know for the light they shine on compositional directions soon to be taken – or abandoned.
The Ibert trio is better known. The Reading Gaol ballad dates from 1921, Ibert’s very early thirties. Each movement is prefaced by lines from Oscar Wilde’s poem. The first movement is the longest, with its plangent oboe solo, adamantine orchestration and a rather cinematic “back breaking” motif. The central panel has a wide variety of colour, and a heavy, turgid section for the lower brass that evokes prison well enough. The finale has some dramatic string tremolandi and frantic writing and rhythmic sap – and a terse, tense, slow coda.
The Bacchanale has syncopated drive, scampering winds and powerful brass and goading percussion. It’s a kind of mini La Valse – slowing for a bout of swirly dancing. And the Louisville Concerto is a commission completed in 1953 that has a confident and extrovert élan. Vigorous, yes, as one might expect but also with a lyrical second theme, a bold fugato, increasingly rapid tempo, strong ratcheting of tension and those La Valse echoes as well, by which Ibert seems to have been obsessed in the 1950s.
The City of Birmingham/Frémaux EMI may score over the Louisville in the last two by virtue of recorded sound but that still leaves La Ballade de la Geole de Reading, which is probably the most valuable piece here. Needless to say the notes, mostly reprints from the original LPs, are excellent and recorded sound invariably variable, with some tape deterioration as noted. If the repertoire intrigues then that shouldn’t and won’t put you off.

Jonathan Woolf



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