Note: A sound sample for this release can be heard in the above clip at 1:48-2:26.
Notes and Editorial Reviews
Under their previous Music Director Stéphane Denève, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra made a highly successful series of recordings of Roussel for Naxos, so I was interested to see how the orchestra approached a disc of d’Indy. I see from conductor Jean-Luc Tingaud that there are plans to record another Naxos disc of Cesar Franck with the orchestra but it does not look likely that the current disc will be anything except an isolated sampling of this composer's music.
Vincent d’Indy's music is reasonably well represented on disc. Greatly helped in recent years by a six volume survey on Chandos - none of which I have heard but the reviews I have read seem very positive. Elsewhere labels such as Timpani, EratoRead more and Marco Polo have produced discs. My introduction to much of this music was via versions on French EMI with conductors such as Pierre Dervaux and Michel Plasson. Those versions still sound well and certainly idiomatic although no-one would have ever said the sound was of demonstration quality and they are all around the thirty to forty year-old mark. d’Indy’s least-unknown work - best known let alone ‘famous’ seems something of an exaggeration in the UK at least - is the Symphony on a French Mountaineer's Song which is not represented on this new disc. The last time this ‘popular’ symphony featured at the Proms was 1951 and the last time any d’Indy was heard there was 1982.
But for someone looking for a one-disc sampler of his other orchestral music, this is as good a place to start as many. The programme offered gives a good idea of the range and style of his work. d’Indy’s dates pretty much tell the whole story; the Symphony No.2 is a large and often dense work that shows his debt to his teacher Cesar Franck. At the other end of the ‘influence’ spectrum are the more impressionistic Jour d'été à la montagne Op.61 [not recorded here] with a strong dose of Wagner along the way too - as in the Prelude to his opera Fervaal which completes the programme.
Part of what fascinates me about d’Indy is the way in which, along with these influences, he changes the musical coat he wears too. The innocent ear would be hard-pressed to identify these works as all by the same composer. The disc opens with the impressive Symphony No.2 in B flat major Op.57. Although written in 1902-03 it is backward looking in spirit. The harmony has an ambiguity that points to the early 20th century but the form and feel of the work are of an earlier age. As well as the Franck Symphony the single works by Chausson and Dukas are fellow travellers - indeed the work is dedicated to the latter. However, unlike any of those three other composers d’Indy writes a symphony in the traditional four movements; however the use of recurring motifs does emulate the compositional processes of his teacher in particular. Dominic Wells in his useful liner, points to the integration of an eclectic range of influences from Gregorian chant to French folk-song alongside Wagner. Given the light and colour that d’Indy creates in other works, the Symphony feels relatively dense and opaque. In that way it is more of a challenge for orchestra, conductor and engineers than many a more obviously ‘brilliant’ score. Often d’Indy will double instrumental lines, so there are immediately questions of balance that need to be addressed from the podium and/or the control room. Generally this new disc is very good at finding a sane and sensible middle path. The very familiar acoustic of the Henry Wood Hall in Glasgow supports the orchestral sound well and Phil Rowlands’ engineering reveals the RSNO in good form both collectively and as soloists. My direct comparison for the symphony is the afore-mentioned Michel Plasson with his long-time collaborators Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse. The French EMI engineers never quite tamed the Halle-aux-Grains in Toulouse, and the recordings nearly always have a rather wallowing diffuseness. Certainly the RSNO of 2015 sound a more refined and sophisticated group than their French counterparts from 1981. Not only on this disc, the woodwind principals in Scotland play extremely beautifully. Yet curiously this added refinement and faultless blending of tone has a strangely emulsifying effect on d’Indy’s orchestration. On the French recording the re-combination and doubling of instruments can be heard and separate entities playing together, the Scottish players blend to the point of producing a resultant sound which to my ear lacks the character the French orchestra achieves. Hard not to feel that back in the early 80's the Toulouse orchestra still retained the unmistakeable French sound which I rather like. d’Indy uses a fairly large orchestra: triple wind with piccolo, bass clarinet and cor anglais. Three bassoons - no contra - but unusually a piccolo trumpet above two standard B flat and a contra-bass trombone rather than a tuba - I wonder if the latter was used here? Two harps and a modest percussion section complete the line-up alongside the usual string complement.
Tingaud steers an eminently sane and reliable path through the symphony without ever really making it catch fire, although that might be the fault of the work. The closing ‘Introduction, Fugue and Finale’ is well-handled although the very title hints at something rather formal and academic. Again I find the contrast between this and d’Indy’s other more expressive scores fascinatingly marked. Lovely solo playing though from the orchestra and the dynamism of the closing pages are well caught and detailed in Phil Rowlands’ production and engineering. The next work immediately impresses me more - the symphonic poem Souvenirs of 1906 was written in memory of d’Indy’s wife Isabelle who died in that year of a brain haemorrhage. The orchestra used is identical except for the piccolo trumpet becoming a 'standard' 3rd B flat trumpet. According to the liner d’Indy charts Isabelle's life as a day from sombre dawn to a brilliant high-noon climax, through elegiac dusk to the chimes of midnight which was literally the hour of her death. The intensity and emotion of the music is never in doubt and easily transcends the intellectual rigour the symphony displays. Other versions I know come coupled with the 3rd Symphony on Auvidis Valois from Theodor Guschlbauer in Strasbourg and an old Marco Polo disc from the Wurttemberg PO. The Strasbourg performance is good, Wurttemberg is almost identical in timings to this new album and features some expressive playing but again the strong impression remains that the Scottish orchestra are the most refined. Even though it is just four years later d’Indy's orchestration is more translucenthere. The sombre opening is very impressive, as is the noon-dance that follows, with the big climax well caught by the engineering. Running to nearly nineteen minutes this is the longest single arc of music on the disc and it is an impressively engaging work.
The Istar - variations symphoniques that follow are another example of the composer's orchestral virtuosity. The title comes from an episode in the Assyrian epic poem Izdubar. In this the Goddess Istar must release her lover held captive in the Underworld. To reach him she must pass through seven doors and at each door she must remove a garment of clothing until she passes the final door and is revealed naked. d’Indy’s musical solution to this story is a series of variations where the theme represents each door and they move from complex – ‘fully clothed’ ? to simplest representing the naked Goddess. Again I am fascinated by how the identical scoring - although a tuba is indicated here instead of a 4th trombone - is made to sound so different. Here is d’Indy the orchestral virtuoso with a skilful fusion of near impressionistic textures and the seamless integration of variation form. There is a lovely sensuous and languorous violin solo. I do wonder if Tingaud could inject even more impetuosity into the work. The upside is that the sectional transitions are well achieved but at the price of some of the voluptuous glamour the work surely contains. The quality of the playing and engineering again shines through in the complex textures of the big climaxes but the final degree of ecstatic release is lost. It has to be said, however, that the well-respected Dervaux on EMI is even more staid – his is a rather squarely virtuous Goddess. This is an impressively compact score rich in detail and incident and one that thoroughly deserves more concert outings than I suspect it gets.
Completing the set of influences, it is important to remember that d’Indy was in the audience for the first ever performance of the Ring at Bayreuth. If by 1896 and Istar much in the way of overt Wagnerisms had been absorbed into a more personal idiom, it is easy to forgive the more overt tribute that is the Prelude to Act I of his opera Fervaal from some seven years earlier. There is a dynamic Prologue to the opera which precedes the music given here. The plot involves descendants of the Celtic Gods loving Saracen Princesses, all the while exploiting a Wagnerian system of motifs and leading themes. From the very opening rising theme over a gentle horn motif - lovely violin and flute again - the older composer’s influence is clear - this is Forest Murmurs territory. But again it a rather beautiful, compact and impressive work - from the score of the opera on IMSLP it is clear that a concert ending of the final 30 seconds or so has been tacked onto the work. After some of the opulence of the other works on the disc it is a rather effective and neat end to close with this essentially gentle reverie written for a reduced but very effective orchestra. Gilles Nopre in Wurttemberg takes an extra thirty seconds or so - the langour very effectively and better projected with the near-final Tristan-esque stab registering more effectively than Tingaud's rather reticent gentle bump - beautiful though it is.
Dominic Wells’ fairly brief but informative liner - in French and English only - allied to the fine playing and engineering completes an attractive package. Worth commending Naxos too for the exceptionally generous playing time of just over eighty minutes - from memory the first time they have breached this mark. As I stated at the beginning of the review, this disc presents the listener with a valuable and interesting overview of d’Indy's varied and impressive output. Perhaps Tingaud is a fraction more cautious than this music can take and benefit from. Lovely music that deserves to be more widely known.