In his early years with BIS, Paavo Järvi turned in a fantastic album of
French orchestral fireworks. Anchored by Poulenc and Ibert, this disc is a
sheer joy, and a major step ahead of Järvi’s recent, rather dour Poulenc
interpretations on Deutsche Grammophon.
is a big work, belying the title. At nearly
a half-hour, and in four solidly-built movements, it’s one of the composer’s
biggest orchestral works. It’s an appealing blend of the hard-edged and the
We’re not too spoiled for choice in the Sinfonietta, but what choices we
do have are terrific. For one thing, there’s Charles Dutoit on Decca, now
safely housed in a box set of ballets, concertos, and sacred music. Järvi is
slightly faster in every movement except the finale, his interpretation
favouring brash modern edges and the zippy sonority of a smaller orchestra.
Dutoit has more French charm in the slow movement, especially, but he’s
softer and more genial everywhere.
The parade of juicy rarities continues. Albert Roussel’s
is a rather savage little neo-classical piece for
strings, here whipping up a buzz of energy. You can also find it in Naxos’s superb set
of the Roussel symphonies. André Jolivet’s
flute concerto is the most tonally adventurous work here, but it’s a heady,
delicious stew. You have the primitivist Stravinsky-like melodic energy,
ever-innocent associations with the lyrical solo flute and a sleekness that
can only be described as French. The grand arc, if there is one, is all
about whether and how much Jolivet is winking at the audience in any given
movement. The finale is a thriller. Manuela Wiesler’s solo performance is
Best for last. We have Jacques Ibert’s Divertissement
, one of the
most joyously silly works ever composed. This is the one where drunken
trombones crash the Mendelssohn wedding march, a campy waltz erupts from a
nocturne, a self-important parade tromps across the stage, and then the
finale concludes in a fury of whistle-blowing. I grew up listening to Kunzel
conduct the Cincinnati Pops on Telarc, then moved on to accounts on Naxos
(Orchestre des Concerts Lamoureux, Yutaka Sado) and Dutoit/Montreal.
Järvi beats the pants off all of them. It’s simple: he takes the lunacy to
an inspired new level, from the very first ear-splitting trombone raspberry.
Take the beginning of the finale, when the main tune gets interrupted for a
trumpet solo that goes awry. Every performance you’ll hear has the trumpet
play in tempo but with the final note, as written by Ibert, intentionally
“wrong”. The Tapiola Sinfonietta trumpeter on this recording, however, has
other ideas. He hits an actual
wrong note, then slides into
Ibert’s. It’s deliberate, excruciating and uproariously funny. Elsewhere
Järvi masters the art of pitting tempos against each other to maximize
contrast, making the piece feel like it was assembled out of scraps. It’s
quick, snappy, clear-textured and totally lovable.
The Tapiola Sinfonietta, as indicated, plays with guts, virtuosity, and
madcap inspiration. The early BIS sound was personally engineered by founder
and CEO Robert von Bahr. This is not just a great way to fill some gaps in
your collection: it’s a great way to spend an hour and a wildly fun, funny