January 2000 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

Jacques IBERT Macbeth. Golgotha. Don Quichotte. Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra   Marco Polo  8.223287 [77:13]

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(Note: This recording has been available for some time; it was made in 1990)

Jacques Ibert, like Arthur Honegger, Georges Auric and Darius Milhaud, was a member of that group of contemporaneous composers known as Les Six. All contributed potent scores for French (and, sometimes, other) films. Jacques Ibert (1890-1962) wrote six operas (two serious and four comic), seven ballets, a dramatic cantata, incidental music for six stage works and four radio scores. His name appears in the credits of some thirty feature films and a few documentaries. It is clear from this recording that he had a gift for dramatic expression in his music.

Macbeth. This was the 1948 production by Orson Welles. Ibert's score is savage, pungent and darkly dramatic. His orchestration requires piano, celesta, vibraphone, harp and a large percussion battery including Millboard-bells, tabor and Chinese gongs. All the wind instruments are doubled but the string section is slightly smaller than normal. The result is often weird and disturbing. The Overture opens in quiet eerie chaos, the music sort of drips along and there are peculiar syncopations in its march. One of the score's many interesting aspects is the inclusion of a "breathing choir in the witches' scenes, set against eerie parts for piano, harp, celesta and percussion with string harmonics… A drinking sequence in the throne-room preceding Banquo's murder, is conceived in a grotesque bass-tuba solo, echoed by gurgling bassoons, and double-bassoon and by rhythmic figures for the strings. Many regarded Ibert as backward-looking in style and sticking in a bit if a rut; but this score, with so many innovations, looks more towards the avant-garde of the day. There are some comic effects to lighten the darkness and there is a real Scottish swirl about the triumphant marches for Macduff's armies.

Don Quichotte (1933). Chanson de Sancho (orchestrated by Adriano) and Quatre Chansons de Don Quichotte. The score was written for G.W. Pabst's classic film. Pabst created Don Quichotte for Feodor Chaliapin (or Shalyapin as spelt in the booklet, either is correct). The original music was recorded on 78's in 1933 by Chaliapin with the composer conducting providing a moving historical document. Quoting from Adriano's booklet notes: "The Quatre Chansons call for an ensemble of only five instruments in the first song and full orchestra in the rest, except for occasional variation in the use of wind and percussion instruments. The overall orchestration provides solo parts for saxophone, bass-clarinet, tuba, guitar and/or cembalo, timpani, harp and vibraphone with single wind and a string section reduced in numbers. The vocal line, set in a discrete and sophisticated Spanish mood, makes this cycle a masterpiece in the repertoire of French song." American-born Henry Kiichli has a fine-grained lightish bass voice and he adds distinction and sensitivity to these fine songs.

Golgotha (Suite 1935). This suite from the film of Our Lord's Passion was assembled by the composer, himself. Again the Ondes Martinot plays a prominent role. The opening cue, 'La fête de Pâques' is a joyful celebration as Christ enters Jerusalem in triumph. Ibert creates a rather odd musical effect, which I infer might depict Christ's entry into the City on an ass, but it sounds rather like a locomotive chugging along! Later in the cue, harsher martial sounds, clearly representing the occupying Roman soldiers, dampens the celebrations. 'Les vendeurs au Temple' are scattered by strict music and you hear the scattering of gold and silver pieces as Christ angrily admonishes the traders for desecrating the Temple. 'Le Calvaire' is a mournful procession along the Via Dolorosa and 'La crucifixion' is a magnificent musical compression of many conflicting moods: an indictment of man's blindness and bestiality and Christ's compassion. The music is very reverent and the style is in places reminiscent of Berlioz. The final 'L'agonie and La mise au tombeau' has storm music, as Christ dies in the cross, with screaming Ondes Martinot vividly evoking lightning bolts and the suite ends with the lovely funeral procession à la Satie.

Adriano not only delivers another compelling collection but he is to be congratulated on his restoration work and for sensitively augmenting Ibert's original thin orchestrations (for the primitive soundtracks of the day) to an orchestral fabric suitable for modern recording purposes.


Ian Lace


Ian Lace

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