3.5 stars -- a nice collection let down by literal interpret
Larry VanDeSande | Mason, Michigan United States | 06/01/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"This is the kind of CD that's made Naxos the best-selling label worldwide -- a generous collection of music (TT: 71:20) from a lesser-known composer performed by moderately-to-little known forces in a good recording for a price that can't be beat. Considering many classical music outlets offer one free Naxos CD to people that make a big purchase, you could end up getting this CD free under the right circumstances.
Here, the Lamoureux Concert Association Orchestra under leadership of 40-something conductor Yutaka Sado perform a batch of compositions by French composer Jacques Ibert (1890-1962) including his two most well-known masterpieces. I have no disagreement with the other reviewers here that scored this production higher than I did. This is an outstanding collection, all well-played, and clearly the conductor and orchestra have their hearts in it.
By my crtieria, however, I won't listen to this CD repeatedly because the interpretations are too literal, too loud, and are unsympathetic to Ibert's French impressionist origins. I can accept Ibert that sounds like Poulenc, as this does occasionally. But I won't accept Ibert that sounds like Prokofiev! While listening to this CD, I sometimes thought I was listening to the forces play Ibert as if written by Prokofiev. It reminded me of one of those recordings where a pianist plays the Beatles arranged by Bach. It's cute a time or two but doesn't stand up very well to comparison.
This style works best in the bigger, more robust pieces including the Khachaturian-like "Bacchanale", the freefloating "Ouverture de fête", and the jazz-influenced "Symphonie marine". But for "Divertissement" and "Escales" I couldn't help but miss the mystery, subtlety, atmosphere and color that more sympathetic conductors like Ansermet, Boulez and even Stokowski bring to this music.
Here, Sado and forces -- who project chirpy fun and fantasy in "Divertissment" -- are more meat and potatoes than French pastry. The "Divertissement" suite has always reminds me of Strauss's "Bourgeouis Gentleman"; it even sounds a little German in this translation. It is certainly closer to Berlin than Cannes in temperament.
This is nonetheless a good collection of Ibert that should satisfy anyone coming to the Frenchman for the first time, or anyone coming to the less well-known pieces for the first time. The Lamoreaux orchestra plays its heart out throughout and Sado, as I've said, takes a full-throated attack. His approach reminds me of the all guns blazing style of Charles Munch, whom many alleged to be the greatest exponent of French music in the United States until his death in the late 1960s.
I didn't like Munch's way and don't like this one, either, but you might. At Naxos' price you won't be out much even if you try it and don't like it. And chances are you'll learn something about this composer you didn't already know."
Orchestral Gems, Decent Performances
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is a serviceable-and-then-some collection of works by a master of orchestral color. Famous performing forces such as Munch/Boston and Martinon/Chicago have rendered this music with more atmosphere and brio, perhaps, but Yutaka Sado and the Lamoureux Orchestra nonetheless have something compelling to say. The orchestra's connections with Ibert are long-standing, the Lamoureux having debuted Escales in 1924 and the Symphonie marine in 1963, following the composer's death (1960). In their hands, the Valencia section of Escales and the outer sections of the Ouverture de fete have that strange mix of grandeur and vulgarity which seems to be a highlight of the finest French orchestral music, going back at least to Rameau. The Lamoureux brass are just the bunch to impart this air to the music. The Bacchanale, too, is thoroughly exciting here but with the right touch of suavity a la Roussel and Ravel so that this doesn't devolve into a French version of Khatchaturian's Saber DanceI don't, however, advise getting the disc (as I unfortunately did) for the Divertissement, perhaps Ibert's finest achievement, one of the world's great pieces of musical humor. Compared with an ancient stereo recording of this music by Jean Martinon and the Paris Conservatory that I fondly remember, Sado's version is surely lacking. The Japanese conductor doesn't give the brass their head in the Valse and Finale, where they are wonderfully raucous in Martinon's old recording, and the Valse just plods along to boot. But then again, this is such delicious music that even in a relatively lackluster performance, as here, it is highly enjoyable. And of course the modern digital sound is a vast improvement over Martinon (still available in a French orchestral collection from Polygram, I believe).On the other hand, probably no one could rescue Symphonie marine from the pedestrian. It started life as the musical score to a film. We can credit Ibert with being the first European composer to write music for a talkie, just as Saint-Saens before him was the first composer of stature to write for film. That's about as much as can be said about the score. As an evocation of the sea, it's a thousand leagues behind any other famous ones you can think of (The Hebrides Overture, Scheherazade, La Mer-you name it). The most interesting aspect is the typical French coloration Ibert brings to its quieter moments through the use of the solo sax, making parts of the music sound like a kind of latter-day L'Arlesienne Suite. Otherwise, the pop-musical intent of the score (there are even passages that seem to quote one of the jazzy sections of Ravel's Left-Hand Piano Concerto) isn't tastefully or skillfully brought off, and the piece is pretty much a wash.That said, it's still nice to hear what Ibert does well in this music. And given the inclusion of the other pieces-all, except for the oddly undistinguished middle section of the Ouverture de fete, musical gems-this is a useful package, with decent to fine performances, a highly idiomatic French orchestra, and very good if reverberant sound."
Well worth it for overture alone
HB | Fort Mill, SC | 04/08/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The overture, as a musical form, began life as the prelude to an opera or ballet. And many totally forgotten operas stay alive due to their overtures. Somewhere along the line, overtures became concert pieces of their own. Mendelssohn wrote many of them. Here we have one by Ibert which I found quite fascinating and enjoyable. It is in ABA form with a very long middle section. Nothing sad here, this is music of sheer joy. The rest of the CD has two Ibert masterpieces, one interesting dance work and a disaster, as noted by the previous reviewer. The performance of the overture and the dance work are excellent. The two masterpieces get respectable performances. As for the disaster, the performance does not really matter."