I welcomed the first volume in this series – review – which confirmed Rumon Gamba as a very fine conductor and the Iceland Symphony Orchestra as a top-notch band. Not only that, Chandos did the music proud, with a dynamic and detailed recording. I have yet to hear the intervening discs, but I’ve no reason to think they’re anything less than splendid. For comparative purposes I have the 24bit/96kHz download of Vol. 4, which I intend to review on Download Roundup. Frankly, I would have preferred it if this CD were in a high-resolution format as well, but for some reason Chandos have stayed with 16bit/44.1kHz for the whole series.
Agay (Méditerranée), the first movement of Poème des rivages, is clearly Debussian in its watery theme and general wash of colour; it has all the evanescence one expects of an Impressionist painting, yet there’s a Ravel-like clarity there as well. Certainly, the rhythms are taut, that repeated falling theme on the lower strings is especially memorable. Gamba coaxes the most luminous sounds from his orchestra, all faithfully caught by the Chandos engineers. The quiet, sustained loveliness of the final bars is particularly beautiful.
The second movement – Miramar de Mallorca – is infused with a southern warmth and played with a joie de vivre that is most appealing. It’s an intricate piece of writing, with just a twist of Wagner, the ensuing hymn to the Adriatic underpinned by crisply articulated timps and a thrilling – but sparingly used – bass drum. The quieter moments confirm just how good – and how naturally balanced – this recording is, timbres rendered with rare fidelity. As for the undulating swell of La Grande Côte, this is as painterly as it gets; Gamba is keenly aware of the music’s shifting colours and rhythms, a mix of fine weather and sudden squalls. The last minute or so of this movement is astonishing, a long, slow whisper of sound fading to grateful silence.
How does one follow that? The youthful Symphonie italienne in A minor, rather like Mendelssohn’s in A major, is d’Indy’s response to the sights and sounds of Italy – in this case Rome, Florence, Venice and Naples. And lest one think this is forgettable juvenilia, just read Andrew Thomson’s exhaustive analysis in the liner-notes. In spite of its compositional complexities, the symphony has a fresh, open-faced character, from the Wagnerian heft of Rome through to the vigorous Saltarello of Naples. The orchestral playing is alert and supple throughout, Gamba drawing delectable sounds from strings and woodwinds in particular. The brass writing – and playing – is nicely restrained too, adding just enough ballast to this most graceful work.
True, the symphony does stray into the doldrums at times, but even then I doubt you’ll hear a more persuasive performance than this. As always, a conductor’s firm advocacy can make all the difference – and after four discs devoted to d’Indy no-one could doubt Gamba’s affection for this composer. Indeed, there’s an easeful, innocent pleasure to the music – and the music-making – that would be very hard to beat.
Sheer, unadulterated pleasure. Go on, treat yourself.