Jacques IBERT (1890-1962)
Le Chevalier errant, symphonic suite from the ballet (1935/36) [28.21]
Les amours de Jupiter, ballet (1945) [29.02]
Orchestre national de Lorraine/Jacques Mercier
rec. October 2014, L’Arsenal, Metz, Lorraine, France
TIMPANI 1C1230 [57.35]

For those fond of twentieth-century ballet this Timpani release from the pen of Paris-born composer Jacques Ibert fits the bill. What we have are the rarely heard ballets Les amours de Jupiter and Le Chevalier errant which makes its appearance in symphonic suite form.

A winner of the Prix de Rome at the Paris Conservatoire the prolific Ibert wrote operas, ballets, incidental music for plays, cinema and radio, a dramatic cantata, several orchestral and concertante works, vocal, chamber music and instrumental works. These are all beautifully crafted with Ibert demonstrating particularly astute handling of wind instruments. Overshadowed in his homeland by composers such as Debussy, Fauré, Ravel, Poulenc and Saint-Saëns today Ibert is best known for his Escales (1922), Divertissement (1928) and Flute Concerto (1934) although I haven’t seen these works programmed in the concert hall for a while.

Notable for his engagingly charming blend of Neo-Classicism and Impressionism Ibert’s reputation was such that the influential Ida Rubinstein commissioned his first ballet Diane de Poitiers in 1933. Rubinstein delighted by the success of the score commissioned a second ballet Le Chevalier errant (The Wandering Knight) to a scenario by Élisabeth de Gramont based on Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Written in 1935/36 Ibert scored this ‘choreographic epic’ for large orchestra, chorus and two speakers. It is laid out in four tableaux: Les Moulins, Danse des galeriens, L’Âge d’or and Les Comediens et Final. Evidently Le Chevalier errant was broadcast by Radio-Paris in 1940 and subsequently staged in 1950 at the Paris Opera choreographed by Serge Lifar with Louis Fourestier conducting. Presented here on Timpani is the symphonic/concert suite that Ibert started to prepare in 1935 and probably worked on for the Paris performances in 1950. Les Moulins is hauntingly atmospheric with the bass clarinet serving as a prelude to a fierce orchestral climax. I noticed how the low percussion is extremely reverberant. The deeper winds create an ominously dark mood in theDanse des galériens and the prominent writing for brass is brilliant especially for the six-strong choir of horns. Opening with a plaintive cor anglais solo the relatively lengthy L’Âge d'or is headily empyreal. The saxophone part is striking and reveals a lovely melody with a melancholic tinge. There's also an unexpected guitar solo which provides a sultry Spanish flavour. Also notable is the brass fanfare which develops into an exuberant festive dance scene in Les Comédiens et Final. Colourful and vibrant in the finale: Apotheose de Jupiter et Junon this energetic music builds to an forceful concluding climax.

In 1945 Ibert wrote Les amours de Jupiter (The loves of Jupiter) for Roland Petit’s Ballets des Champs-Élysées. Using a scenario by Boris Kochno based on the Metamorphosis of Ovid, Ibert cast his ballet in five tableaux each of which is further divided into various short sections. To Roland Petit’s choreography Les amours de Jupiter was premièred in 1946 at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées and was conducted by André Girard. Commencing with an overture the five tableaux are depictions of Jupiter’s amorous encounters with Europa, Léda, Danaé and Ganymède and in the final panel his wife Juno. Typically stylish Les amours de Jupiter is a splendid work highly appealing and overflowing with interesting material. Highlights include the chorale theme in the serious-minded overture although there is some strain in the brass. I cherished the flowing dance of the Ensemble des filles and the meltingly tender description of Léda in Variations de Léda. Such a lovely appealing picture Variations de Danaé produces a warm and shimmering atmosphere with a notable clarinet part. A lively Spanish favour to Apparitions et variations de l’Aigle has a direct and rather arrogant feel. There is a lovely march-like melody of a jubilant quality in Prélude à l'entrée de Jupiter. In 1954 Ibert conducted a recording of Les amours de Jupiter and his Escales with the Orchestre du Théâtre National de l’Opéra de Paris on EMI.

Under the baton of the assured Jacques Mercier the Orchestre national de Lorraine shines in this stylish French music. They play with natural warmth and distinctive colour. The sound quality is excellent, clear and well balanced, between the orchestra and the more delicate solo parts. I cannot image lovers of French music and the ballet in particular being anything other than enchanted with this excellent Timpani release.

Michael Cookson

See also Download News 2015/5

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