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Ibert: Chamber Music / Bridge Quartet

Release Date: 08/13/2013 
Label:  Somm   Catalog #: 122   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Jacques Ibert
Performer:  Michael DussekBryn LewisRichard Alsop
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bridge String Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

IBERT String Quartet. Jeux —Sonatine for Violin and Piano 1. Ghirlarzana for Solo Cello. Trio for Violin, Cello, and Harp. 2 Aria for Viola and Piano 3. Caprilena for Solo Violin. Entr’acte for Violin and Harp 4. Souvenir for String Quartet and Double Bass Read more class="SUPER12">5 Bridge Qrt; 1,3 Michael Dussek (pn); 2,4 Bryn Lewis (hp); 5 Richard Alsop (db) SOMM 0122 (68:24)

All of the pieces on this disc, save one, have appeared on record before, the exception being the Souvenir for String Quartet and Double Bass, which is said to be its first recording.

Jacques Ibert (1890–1962) is not particularly known by or for his chamber music. In fact, he’s little known outside his native France by anything other than two orchestral works, Escales (Ports of Call) and Divertissement , each so different from the other they could be by two different composers. The former is a brilliantly scored three-movement suite, cataloging Ibert’s World War I tour of duty in the Navy aboard a ship patrolling the Mediterranean and anchoring at ports in Italy, North Africa, and Spain. It was an instant success when it premiered in 1924, following in the footsteps of similar works by French composers, such as Saint-Saëns ( Suite algérienne ), Chabrier ( España ), Debussy ( Ibéria ), and Ravel ( Rapsodie espagnole).

In contrast, Divertissement is a suite drawn from Ibert’s incidental music to Eugène Labiche’s French farce, The Italian Straw Hat . The composer’s score is a lightweight, tongue-in-cheek burlesque made up of spiky jazz rhythms, common music hall tunes, mischievous dissonances, and parodies of Viennese waltzes and the Wedding March from Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream . If this all sounds a bit like Poulenc in roguish mood, you wouldn’t be far off the mark; it’s all camp and kitsch.

Though the chamber works on this disc are not directly related to Ibert’s two orchestral works described above, they do present a picture of a rather enigmatic composer, who, not unlike Poulenc, was of at least two distinct personalities, one serious, the other flippant. Both of those faces show themselves in the pieces on this disc, sometimes within the same work.

The String Quartet which opens the program is a perfect example. Begun in 1937, and written over a period of several years, it’s Ibert’s single largest chamber music composition, spanning 24 minutes over four movements. The first movement ( Allegro risoluto ) is in the composer’s best Divertissement style, all perky, insouciant, and perhaps a bit impish, calling to mind similarly styled works by Milhaud, Françaix, and even Hindemith. The Andante assai movement that follows it, however, is music of aching sadness. At nine-and-a-half minutes, it’s both a cri de coeur and the heart of the entire Quartet. The brief Scherzo is all pluck, figuratively and literally; it’s pizzicato from start to finish. I can’t decide whether Ibert was channeling the second movement of Ravel’s String Quartet or the third movement of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony. The Finale seems to echo, in spirit at least, the playful character of the opening movement, but the writing is denser and more contrapuntal. I haven’t been able to locate a score online, but my ear tells me that Ibert is having his waggish way with a fugue.

The Sonatine titled Jeux has been recorded a number of times, but if you’re familiar with the piece, it’s likely to be in its original scoring for flute and piano. It was published, however, with an indication that the flute part could just as easily be taken by a violin, which it is here in this delightful performance by the Bridge Quartet’s Colin Twigg and pianist Michael Dussek. There’s not much resemblance between Ibert’s 1923 Jeux and Debussy’s 1912 orchestral poème dansé of the same title. If Ibert’s Sonatine speaks the language of Impressionism, it’s a language that more closely resembles that of Ravel’s Mirrors.

Ghirlarzana for Solo Cello is a late work, composed in 1950 to a commission from the Koussevitzky Foundation. There’s no need to puzzle over the title because it appears to have been coined by Ibert himself, and if it had some special meaning to him he kept it secret. The piece is an In memoriam to Natalie, Serge Koussevitzky’s second wife, and its three-and-a-half minutes of lugubrious lucubration are well-suited to its purpose. Obviously, Ibert’s musical vocabulary has evolved in a more modernistic direction from his earlier works. The Bridge Quartet’s cellist Lucy Wilding plays the piece sympathetically, but it’s not easy to describe its vague tonality and spectral sounds, other than to say, whither Natalie went, Ibert’s elegy seems to have followed her.

Written for his harp-playing daughter Jacqueline, a student of famed harpist Lily Laskine, Ibert composed the Trio for Violin, Cello, and Harp in 1944. It’s a really beautiful score in a neo-Romantic vein that avoids the clichés so common to harp-centric Impressionistic works. Ibert writes for the harp in a very classical way, treating it as a composer would the piano in a traditionally scored trio for violin, cello, and piano. Despite its date of composition, the style of the piece looks back, largely, I think, to Fauré and even Saint-Saëns, at least in the first two movements. The Finale is a bit spikier and more contemporary to its time, reminding me a bit of Martin??not too far-fetched, considering that the Czech composer lived and worked in Paris from 1923 to 1940, and no doubt came into contact with Ibert sometime during those years. I’m not one to judge harp playing, but Bryn Lewis, principal harp with the London Symphony Orchestra, seems to relish his part in Ibert’s trio, and plays it as ravishingly as I can imagine it being played.

The 1931 Aria for Viola and Piano was originally composed as a wordless vocalise for voice and piano. Robert Matthew-Walker’s album note tells us that this transcription for viola was made in 1932 by Paul-Louis Neuberth, a fellow student of Ibert at the Paris Conservatory, soon after the original version appeared. The Bridge Quartet’s Michael Schofield is the featured violist, and he plays the modest piece with endearing sensitivity and beauty of tone.

For solo violin, Caprilena is another composer-coined title for a short piece Ibert wrote in the same year, 1950, as Ghirlarzana . In the case of Caprilena , the liner note doesn’t tell us the occasion for the piece or, if commissioned, by whom. Whatever the circumstances of its composition, however, it’s nothing like the doleful cello piece. In fact, you can’t tell me that Caprilena isn’t the offspring of Ravel’s Tzigane . It’s obvious from the very opening phrases that Ibert has been bitten by the Gypsy bug. It’s mostly all there, albeit compressed into three minutes: the slashing dissonant chords, the Magyar-flavored harmonies with their occasional “off” notes thrown in to sour the melody, the wild, stomping rhythms, the fiery, throbbing passion, even a few left-hand pizzicato plucks at the end for good measure. If, as Matthew-Walker suggests, the piece is a “feminine portrait,” it’s a portrait of the Gypsy woman Azucena, recounting how she mistakenly threw her own child into the flames in Verdi’s Il Trovatore . I’m sure that Caprilena poses quite a technical challenge, which Colin Twigg consummately conquers.

I must here digress for a moment to absolve myself of any possible misattribution of players’ names. I can only assume that the Bridge Quartet’s first chair violin, Colin Twigg, is the violinist in Jeux , the Trio for Violin, Cello, and Harp, Caprilena , and the Entr’acte for Violin and Harp, because nowhere in the album’s notes or credits are the individual players cross-referenced to the works in which they’re heard. It’s not hard to figure it out when there’s only one of each—a viola, a cello, a harp, and a double-bass—but where there are two violins, for all I know it could be the Bridge Quartet’s second violin, Catherine Schofield, who is the violinist in one or another of the pieces calling for only one violin. If she is, I apologize for not giving credit where it’s due, but Somm and the CD’s producer are to blame for the oversight.

From 1935 comes the incidental music Ibert composed for a production of El medico de su honra (The Surgeon of his Honor), by Spanish playwright Pedro Calderón. The Entr’acte for Violin and Harp is taken from the incidental music to the play, and was subsequently published separately in various arrangements.

The program closes with the previously unrecorded Souvenir for String Quartet and Double Bass, which the album note freely acknowledges may not even be the handiwork of Ibert. The piece appears to be based on music composed in 1916 by Ibert’s contemporary August Gay, and Ibert’s contribution to the score is unknown. It’s attractive enough, but unless we chalk it up to being a very early effort by a 26-year-old apprentice composer, it certainly doesn’t sound anything like Ibert’s later works. It has about it a whiff of the late 18th-century Viennese drawing room, with moments that sound like a malinconia in 3/4 by Haydn, tinted by Schubert, and further touched up by some slightly later 19th-century coiffurista . Actually, it’s a very pretty little piece, but it’s so out of character for Ibert and with everything else on the disc that one can’t help but find it a bit amusing.

This CD brought me over an hour’s worth of unalloyed listening pleasure, and for those familiar with Ibert only from two or three of his better-known orchestral works, a voyage of joyous discovery awaits you in this collection of his chamber music compositions. The Bridge Quartet and its individual members, plus Michael Dussek, piano, Bryn Lewis, harp, Richard Alsop, double bass, and Somm’s excellent recording, make this a must-have release.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Trio for Violin, Cello and Harp by Jacques Ibert
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bridge String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1943-1944; Rome, Italy 
Quartet for Strings by Jacques Ibert
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bridge String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1937-1942; Rome, Italy 
Jeux by Jacques Ibert
Performer:  Michael Dussek (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bridge String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1923; France 
Ghirlarzana by Jacques Ibert
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bridge String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1950; Rome, Italy 
Entr'acte by Jacques Ibert
Performer:  Bryn Lewis (Harp)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bridge String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1937; France 
Caprilena by Jacques Ibert
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bridge String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1950; Rome, Italy 
Aria by Jacques Ibert
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bridge String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1930; France 
Souvenir by Jacques Ibert
Performer:  Richard Alsop (Double Bass)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bridge String Quartet

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