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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.