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Vincent d’INDY (1851-1931)
Istar Op. 42 (1897) [13.12]
Choral Varié for saxophone and orchestra (1903) [9.40]
Symphony No. 3 Op. 70 (1916-18) [32.08]
Diptych méditerranéen Op. 87 (1926) [15.40];
Sigurdur Flosason (saxophone)
Iceland Symphony Orchestra/ Rumon Gamba
rec. Háskolabió, Iceland, 21-24 September 2009
CHANDOS CHAN10585 [71.09]

Experience Classicsonline

So, more d’Indy: not only in the now three volumes from Chandos (see reviews of Vol. 1 and Vol. 2), but last year, on Hyperion (CDA67690 - see review). He was a composer not always understood, especially in his native France and not always performed with understanding. When performances came they were often dutiful, so it’s good to welcome this Chandos volume and especially the Third Symphony.

Possibly because the British weather was so dismal that day or possibly because I was thinking about a forthcoming holiday to the region I started to listen to the CD from the last track the Diptych méditerranéen and found this to be an instantly adorable work. This is what my wife calls “comfort music” and it is certainly reassuring and warm-hearted. The two equal length movements are first ‘Soleil matinal’- which starts in imperceptible quiet and the second ‘Soleil vespéral’. The first part grows towards its midday with a glorious brass chorale via the nagging call of cicadas. The second part fades gradually into a warm, sunset glow again via the cicadas. The performance captures the atmosphere beautifully.

The disc begins with a wonderfully sensitive rendition of the earliest work here Istar. It’s based on an Assyrian story which concerns a goddess who in releasing her imprisoned lover divests herself of her ornaments and clothes eventually appearing completely naked through the seventh door of the underworld. d’Indy plays a formal trick in this ‘Variations symphoniques’ of beginning with his seven variations and ending with his theme, revealed as it were, completely naked in wind and strings against a forceful ostinato. So, d’Indy the eclectic, makes the work grow from a deserted scene of vague impressionism, through ideas which are almost Wagnerian into the main theme which in its contours may well be reminiscent of Gregorian chant which was such a regular inspiration to the composer who was a devoted Roman Catholic. A fine work indeed and one very much in the César Franck tradition which d’Indy was keen to uphold.

The Choral varié for saxophone and orchestra is also a sort of theme (the chorale melody stated at the beginning) and a series of developments or variations. Andrew Thomson’s booklet notes are a model of their kind in saying something about the background to each work and then taking the listener gently through the music with enough useful analysis without it becoming too technical. Thomson also describes this work as eclectic. With its solemn march tread, impressionistic linking ideas and classical format I completely agree. Sigurdur Flosason milks what little he has to do with a dreamy and cantabile tone of great beauty. This brief work passes by as a dream. Wonderful.

The main work on the disc however is the four movement Third Symphony. This was composed during the darkest days of the Great War and is subtitled Sinfonia brevis de Bello Gallico; indeed it does have some militaristic qualities. The opening movement has march-like material often accompanied by the side-drum. The finale quotes a plainchant associated with St.Michael who is the saint often linked with battles (in heaven) and victory over oppressors. That said, its opening is beautifully calm and impressionistic as are many other passages. In between these glorious outer movements are first a scherzo with a curious trio section in 5/4 time and then a dreamy slow movement with an almost Stravinskian middle section. Despite its date of composition I found this to be an uplifting and life-enhancing work, rather Gallic in its understated emotion. It is more Sisley than Renoir, not really glorifying war, although there might be some who might think so. The work, like a great deal of d’Indy, has certainly grown on me, both in its content, its form and in its orchestration.

I’m not quite sure why an Icelandic orchestra was given the task of recording this work. I can’t help but feel that a French orchestra with some of those fruity woodwinds and silky horns might have been more suitable. Nevertheless they play marvellously for Rumon Gamba the only criticism of whom is that the marking ‘Lent et anxieux’, an expressive idea in the first movement, comes out more like ‘Lent et béatifique’(!).

The essay I have already commented on. There are, as ever, biographical notes on the performers but these are, as usual, as dull as ditch water.

Gary Higginson 



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