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CD: Crotchet AmazonUK AmazonUS

Jacques IBERT (1890-1962)
CD 1
Divertissement (1929) [14:25]
Symphonie Marine (1950s?) [13:56]
Bacchanale (1959) [8:20]
Louisville Concerto [11:18]
Bostoniana (1950s?) [6:53]
Flute Concerto (1934) [20:04]
CD 2
Ouverture de Fête (1942) [15:33]
Escales (1922) [15:27]
Tropismes pour des amours imaginaires (1950s?) [24:32]
Quatres Chansons de Don Quichotte (1932) [12:25]
Emmanuel Pahud (flute), José Van Dam (baritone)
City of Brmingham Symphony Orchestra/Louis Frémaux; Tonhalle-Orchester Zurich/David Zinman; Orchestre National de l'ORTF/Jean Martinon; Orchestre de l'Opéra de Lyon/Kent Nagano
rec. Great Hall, Birmingham University, 20-23 July 1973 (Divertissement); 20-21 August 1975 (other CBSO); 7-9 October 2002, Grosser Saal, Tonhalle, Zurich (Flute); Salle Wagram, Paris, 28-30 October, 7 November 1974. ADD/DDD
EMI CLASSICS GEMINI 5176392 [75:32 + 68:17]
Experience Classicsonline

This munificent collection has the air of a challenge thrown down with all the panache that comes of knowing that no-one else can match it. It's the sort of thing you can do when you are EMI. The competition just don't have the catalogue depth to match it. OK so they might have a few more recent recordings but in terms of still very good sounding analogue this is the business and at superbudget price. 

Ibert had his frivolous ’twenties moments but for the rest he is a pleasing melodist with a fastidious and effective ear for orchestral effect.

I have known most of these recordings from having started exploring Ibert on LP during the period 1971-78. The covers of those albums are engraved in my memory.

His Divertissement is drawn from his incidental music for a production of a Goldoni play The Italian Straw Hat. It is an excuse for a brilliant weave of parody and display. The echoes here are largely of absurdist Satie, of Ravel's Ma Mère l'Oye in Cortege, of Prokofiev in parade and in the tempo di galop of the then 'madmen' of music such as Antheil, Ornstein and Cowell. Frémaux and the CBSO give this work a rowdy outing.

The Symphonie Marine was not played during Ibert’s life and only achieved performance one year after his death. There is no swelling oceanic sweep here; sketched in suggestions are the order of the day. It's a work that in its freshness and intricacy of detail fascinates. The supercharged whooping cascading effusions of Bacchanale are bound to impress but don't I recall another even more animalistic recording by Bernstein and the L'ORTF also on EMI? Written for the tenth anniversary of the BBC Third Programme, it's a superb riotous showpiece; rather the equivalent of Szymanowski's early Concert Overture and the first movement of Enescu's First Symphony.

Like the Symphonie Marine solo lines emerge repeatedly in the almost equally exuberant Louisville Concerto - so designated despite running only to concert overture length. It's clearly another successful artefact of Louisville's philanthropic scheme to put the city on the cultural map internationally - which the scheme did. Such a pity that First Edition CDs are no longer around to perpetuate the legacy.

Rather predictably the active and restless Bostoniana was a Charles Munch Tanglewood commission - in fact what they asked for was a symphony. Ibert died before going any further than this single movement which at times finds echo in Hindemith's big symphonies. The Tropismes was also not performed until after Ibert's death. It is in nine sections though here inconveniently in a single 25 minute track. It might have been intended as a ballet. The big piercingly searching and surging string writing of Bostoniana is also on show here but with a sultry swooning harmonic world which takes Ibert one romantically fevered pace towards Scriabin. It ends with a sequence of piled high superheated grandiloquent fanfares.

The Flute Concerto was written for Marcel Moyse and is flighty, suave and cool with a wondrously tender Andante and with an unusually long and brusque Allegro scherzando which seems to look back to the absurdist uproar of Divertissement. Like Britten's Sinfonia da Requiem (and which other works I wonder?) Ouverture de Fetes was written for the 2500th anniversary of the Mikado's dynasty in Japan. It was premiered in 1942 having weathered the backwash from Japan's part in the war. It includes a fugal episode and is quite a weighty effort running to more than fifteen active and celebratory minutes. Nothing struck me as especially oriental about it.

Back to more familiar waters with the superlative suite Escales (Ports of Call). It is a most audacious and achieved series of pictures of the cultures looking out or from the Mediterranean littoral. These are lovely recordings with some truly beautiful impressionistic writing. While Divertissement bids fair to be his most instantly recognisable piece this is the one that deserves concert hall attention. The Tunis movement recalls Holst's Beni Mora in its evocation of the shadowed streets of the old city. The final Valencia is eager and bright with excitement and tickles the ear with some wonderful distanced Hispanic effects including the castanets and tambourines as well as the rapturously explosive Rhapsodie Espagnole style whoops in the final few moments.

The Don Quichotte songs have a related Iberian resonance. The songs are to words (not in the booklet) by Ronsard and Arnoux. The words are delivered with pleasing clarity so some French speakers should be able to follow the plot easily enough. The orchestral contribution is spare and well judged with guitar, harp, harpsichord, bassoon and oboe playing leading parts in establishing the Iberian milieu. But then we know from the Valencia movement of Escales that Ibert had all the right Spanish credentials. Well worth exploring if you have a predilection for economically scored and colour-soaked Hispanica.

A good concise note by Richard Langham Smith.

Interested in Ibert? Sorted.

Rob Barnett

see also review by Hubert Culot


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