Except for his Debussyesque Escales (Ports of Call), I’ve long regarded Jacques Ibert (known as “Jackie Bear” in Britain) as a sort of fellow traveller (along with Jean Françaix), with Les Six. He’s more talented than five of them, but without Poulenc’s genius for laconic glitter and Parisian chic. This well-filled CD (over 80 minutes – why can’t everyone be that generous?) gives a more rounded survey of Ibert’s oeuvre.
The Divertissement (1930), which cemented Ibert’s reputation as a musical farceur, was adapted from a play called The Italian Straw Hat and is perhaps more sardonic than the usual Satieesque Keystone Cops-style slapstick romp, and none the worse for that. Escales (inspired by Ibert’s experiences during naval service in the First World War) is well played and, here, I must single out the lovely, sinuous oboe playing in the Tunis-Nefta movement – so different from the pinched, vinegary sound we used to hear from this orchestra in the Ansermet days. The reading is somewhat ‘northern’ and matter of fact rather than radiating Mediterranean languor, as in Charles Munch’s or Stokowski’s legendary readings.
The main discovery here is the Symphonic Suite, relocated to Paris from a play originally set in South America. It’s much more Parisian than South American and combines brittle jazzy rhythms and evocative bustle with more Moorish exoticism depicting a mosque – and great trumpet playing also. The Bacchanale was composed for the 10th anniversary of the BBC’s illustrious Third Programme and, bizarrely, also for the bicentenary of Mozart’s birth. The Ouverture de Fête was composed for the 2,600th anniversary of the even more sacred chrysanthemum dynasty in Japan. God only knows what each institution made of the respective offering. The Overture is the only piece which outstays its welcome to my ears. The Bacchanale is, I suspect, an ironic take on Saint-Saëns’ Samson et Delilah.
All in all, this is a highly recommendable survey of Ibert’s familiar and not so familiar output and Järvi with his Swiss Orchestra enter into the spirit of the music with admirable panache.