If I've ever owned a recording of an orchestral work by Vincent D'Indy I don't recall it. Nor do I remember ever hearing anything of his in the concert hall. I've heard a recording of his 'Symphony on a French Mountain Air', of course, and vaguely recall hearing something from his opera 'Fervaal', but that's about it. I knew of him primarily as co-founder of the Paris Schola Cantorum and as a guardian (and teacher) of conservative compositional techniques, stemming from his study with Franck and his admiration of Wagner. I was not, therefore, prepared to be particularly impressed by anything of his. But this recording of three of his works -- the Second Symphony, 'Tableaux de voyage' suite, and 'Karadec' -- has shown me that he was indeed an interesting and engaging composer.
Dedicated to D'Indy's friend, Paul Dukas, the Second Symphony, in the usual four movements, is an example of the cyclic form of composition propounded by Franck. It is based largely on two themes that we hear early in the first movement. It begins mysteriously and with a slightly menacing tone but evolves into a second movement that is in song form and contains a lovely melody sung in turn by viola, cor anglais, horn and clarinet. The third movement is an intermezzo that is lighter than anything previously. It starts with a melancholy folklike melody that is eventually transformed into a tipsy dance. The finale, early on, has a fugal treatment of one of the two main themes followed by a transformation of the other theme into a boisterous 5/4 section. The work concludes with a majestic chorale based on the more diatonic of the two themes, a triumphant conclusion to an immensely satisfying work. As in the following works, the Iceland Symphony Orchestra plays marvelously led by its music director, the young British conductor Rumon Gamba. This orchestra has been making some impressive recordings lately and this is certainly one of them.
'Tableaux de voyage', Op. 36, is an orchestration of six of the movements from D'Indy's piano suite of the same name. It commemorates a hiking tour D'Indy took in the Black Forest and the Tyrol. The individual pieces are:
1. 'Préambule', with somber beginning and conclusion surrounding a short lyrical middle section.
2. 'En marche', a sprightly folksong.
3. 'Le glas' ('The Knell'), with grave introduction leading to tolling of bells and concluding (there's that cyclic idea again!) with material from the Préambule.
4. 'Lac vert' ('Green Lake'), a gentle barcarolle.
5. 'La poste', a folk-like post-horn melody.
6. 'Rêve' ('Dream'), a darker form of the préambule, with reminiscences of 'Le glas' and 'Lac vert'.
'Karadec', Op. 34, is a suite of three pieces excerpted from D'Indy's incidental music for a forgotten play of that name by André Alexandre. The pieces are
1. 'Prélude', a march with ghostly harmonies. After a lyrical middle section it concludes with a broad diatonic version of the main melody.
2. 'Chanson', a gentle song based on a theme from the Prélude.
3. 'Noce bretonne' ('Breton Wedding'), after an eerily dramatic reminiscence of the 'Prélude', the mood changes to a jaunty oboe folk tune against musette drones and filigree-like chromatic counterpoint in the strings. It all ends with an optimistic restatement in augmentation of the Prélude theme and a brisk coda.
I would never have predicted it before hearing this CD, but this music will definitely be taken from my shelf with some regularity. What a discovery!