Chandos’s series devoted to the orchestral works of Vincent d’Indy here reaches its sixth (and final?) volume, an unlikely though appealing assortment of lighter pieces coupled with music from his largest-scale work and also the piece that first brought him to national prominence.
The latter is Wallenstein, an imposing symphonic trilogy which broadly follows the narrative of Friedrich Schiller’s epic poem. Composed in 1879 though not heard complete for almost a decade, this pursues an intensive trajectory from the dynamic impulsiveness of ‘Le camp de Wallenstein’ (the section dramatised even more vividly by Smetana in his symphonic poem of that name), through the ardour leading to tragedy of ‘Max et Thécia’ (the most Wagnerian portion), to the mingled desolation and nobility of ‘La mort de Wallenstein’. For all its overt discursiveness, the 35-minute piece is accorded unity by a number of motifs which operate at a subliminal more than dramatic level; an aspect that Rumon Gamba pointedly underlines in this well-integrated account which is further enhanced by the Iceland Symphony Orchestra’s playing.
Six years in the making, Fervaal (1895) was d’Indy’s attempt at synthesis between the grand opera of Meyerbeer and the music drama of Wagner – yet with the former considered passé and the latter ever controversial, such an attempt was always doomed to failure and the opera has not been staged for over a century. The Prelude to the third Act gives a good idea of its musical strengths and weaknesses – its initial sombreness leading seamlessly but passively towards the suffused transcendence and resignation such as characterises what is to follow.
The remaining three pieces find d’Indy in lighter though by no means superficial mood, not least the Lied (1884) which echoes Massenet in its wistful charm and gentle eloquence – as Bryndis Halla Gylfadóttir’s playing attests. More substantial is the Suite dans le style ancien (1886), on one hand an affectionate acknowledgement of the influence of Saint-Saëns (whose Septet was a likely precursor) and on the other a pointer to the neoclassicism as came to the fore in d’Indy’s later music. Most distinctive here are the soulful ‘Sarabande’ and the closing ‘Rondo française’ which anticipates Poulenc in its bracing nonchalance.
Gamba relishes the work’s rhythmic incisiveness and harmonic piquancy to the full, then is no less attuned to the Sérénade et Valse (1885) – orchestrations of piano pieces (being the first items of the composer’s Opuses 16 and 17 collections respectively) and which illustrate d’Indy’s innate technical skill as well as his ability to produce ‘light’ music of a poise and winsomeness as was much in evidence during the late-nineteenth-century, only to fall from favour thereafter.
As elsewhere on this release, the Iceland Symphony Orchestra responds with appropriate subtlety, and is heard to advantage in what is likely the most enticing sound which Chandos has yet secured from Reykjavik. Andrew Thomson’s booklet note is admirably detailed, though his descriptive analysis tends to obscure music that is rarely difficult to follow aurally. Those who have Thierry Fischer’s Hyperion recording of Wallenstein need not rush to acquire the Chandos, which is nonetheless a mandatory purchase for those following this valuable series.