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Jacques IBERT (1890–1962)
CD 1
Divertissement (1930)a [14:25]
Symphonie marine (1931)a [13:56]
Bacchanale (1956)a [8:20]
Louisville Concerto (1953)a [11:18]
Bostoniana (1962)a [6:53]
Flute Concerto (1934)b [20:04]
CD 2
Ouverture de fête (1940)c [15:33]
Escales (1922)c [15:27]
Tropismes pour des amours imaginaires (1957)c [24:32]
Quatre Chansons de Don Quichotte (1932)d [12:25]
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Louis Frémauxa; Emmanuel Pahud (flute), Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich/David Zinmanb; Orchestre National de l’ORTF/Jean Martinonc;  José Van Dam (baritone), Orchestre de l’Opéra de Lyon/Kent Naganod
rec. Great Hall, Birmingham University, 30-31 August 1973 (Divertissement) and 20-21 August 1975 (Symphonie marine, Bacchanale, Louisville Concerto, Bostoniana); Grosser Saal, Tonhalle, Zürich, 7-9 October 2002 (Flute Concerto); Salle Wagram, Paris, 28-30 October and 7 November 1974 (Ouverture de fête, Escales, Tropismes) and Auditorium Maurice Ravel, Lyon, 31 October and 3 November 1990 (Quatre Chansons)
EMI CLASSICS GEMINI 5176392 [75:32 + 68:17]
Experience Classicsonline


As can be seen from the above details, all these recordings have been available before, some of them dating back to the LP era. Some have already been re-issued in CD format several years ago and have since disappeared from the catalogue so this compilation at bargain price is most welcome.
 
Ibert was a most distinguished craftsman whose music has great melodic and instrumental charm, although it rarely plumbs any great depths. The celebrated and ubiquitous Flute Concerto is now a classic avidly seized upon by flautists all over the world. It perfectly exemplifies both Ibert’s strengths and weaknesses. The music is superbly crafted, gratefully written for the instrument and overflows with sparkling orchestration and memorable melodic material. On the other hand, Ibert’s musical ideas are most of the time rather short-winded and do not lend themselves to any significant development, although the composer always uses his limited material most resourcefully. One of the finest examples of Ibert’s ability to work-out satisfying musical structures from tiny material is to be found in his Trois pièces brèves for wind quintet (1930), now another classic of the repertoire for wind quintet.
 
Louis Frémaux must have been one of the first conductors to investigate further into Ibert’s output. His recordings made in Birmingham, as far back as 1973 and 1975, provided a welcome opportunity to hear other works besides the best-known and much loved Divertissement. The scoring for small orchestra, actually a sort of pit orchestra, betrays the origin of the piece as incidental music for a revival of Labiche’s comedy Un chapeau de paille d’Italie. The music is light-hearted, often gently ironic as in the light parody of Mendelssohn’s Wedding March in the second movement, full of dance rhythms and some ‘surprises’ such as the modern-sounding “wrong-note” music of the short piano cadenza opening the otherwise riotous Finale. In this delightful piece, Ibert proves himself another non-official member of Les Six, and the heir to Poulenc and Milhaud. The somewhat earlier Escales, too, is fairly well-known. This colourful travelogue around the Mediterranean Sea has been repeatedly recorded, by Stokowski amongst many others. It, too, is a good example of Ibert’s music-making: colourful, superbly scored, never outstaying its welcome, although it is not completely free of clichés and quickly forgotten ideas. It nevertheless remains a very attractive and enjoyable piece. Ibert forbade performances of his Symphonie marine during his lifetime. It is not clear why he did so, neither do we know exactly what the music is about. As the present annotator rightly remarks, Ibert’s “view of the sea has nothing of the flashing colours of Debussy’s La Mer”. Indeed, the music of this fairly concise work is sustained throughout its duration by a tugging rhythm rather suggesting The Toilers of the Sea than the great seascapes of Debussy’s work or of Frank Bridge’s The Sea or the much later Sea Interludes of Britten. The explanation lies in the fact that this work might either be the score written for a short film S.O.S. Foch or based on that music. I have never seen that film and cannot tell you anything about it that might shed interesting light on this rather neglected score. Here, however, the serious side of Ibert’s music-making can be better appreciated. Louisville Concerto (1953) and Bacchanale (1956) were written on commission, the former as part of the Louisville Orchestra’s courageous scheme of commissioning works from living composers from quite different geographical and musical horizons. The latter was commissioned by the BBC to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Third Programme. The music of the Louisville Concerto sometimes has echoes of Americana and may bring Copland and Roy Harris to mind. Bacchanale, on the other hand, is a short nervous, brilliantly scored Scherzo with a calmer central section. Both may be occasional works but they are nevertheless well worth hearing. Bostoniana, actually Ibert’s last work, is the only surviving movement of a symphony commissioned by Munch and the Boston Symphony Orchestra but left incomplete. This short symphonic movement may be the real surprise in this compilation of Ibert’s orchestral output, for it has a muscular and forceful energy reminiscent of the composer’s great friend Arthur Honegger. It amply shows that Ibert was also capable of great things.
 
Very little is known about Tropismes pour les amours imaginaires, incidentally the longest work here. It may have been conceived as a ballet score but was never performed during the composer’s lifetime. What comes clearly through is the dance-like character of much of the music, sometimes nodding towards Gershwin. It may be a bit too long and repetitive, but again it is well worth more than the occasional hearing. Ouverture de fête, first performed by Charles Munch in 1942, is another curiosity. It was composed to mark the 2500th anniversary of the Mikado’s dynasty in Japan, as was Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem. Ibert’s overture is completely different from Britten’s work, both in form and content. Ibert composed a fairly substantial celebratory piece closer to Walton’s coronation marches, but with considerably less panache. The piece, however, perfectly suited the occasion.
 
The final work in this release is one of the finest. It is less well-known than Ravel’s Don Quichotte à Dulcinée, incidentally composed for and not used in the same film by Pabst starring Chaliapin himself in the title role. Ibert’s Quatre Chansons may be less sophisticated than the Ravel but these songs are nevertheless really very fine, effective and at times deeply moving for all their utter simplicity.
 
Jacques Ibert is often regarded as un petit maître, but his music is always refreshingly unpretentious, often attractive and rewarding for all its strengths and weaknesses. It certainly possesses a direct appeal that is hard to resist. This re-issue is perfectly justified and most welcome especially when the music is played with taste and loving care as it is here.
 
Hubert Culot
 



 


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