'D'Indy handles his outsize forces with conspicuous skill (there's some terrific horn writing throughout), and the work's A flat major apotheosis is haunting indeed. Both the Op 19 Lied and Choral varié prove very fetching discoveries, especially when Lawrence Power plays with the selfless dedication, sense of poetry and lustrous tone that made his world premiere recording of York Bowen's viola concerto so special … A toothsome and notably enterprising collection, this, with splendidly ample and atmospheric sound to match. A confident recommendation seems in order' (Gramophone)
'These works make a good introduction to D'Indy's post-Wagnerian art … Choral varié and Lied are concertante works in which, respectively, the saxophone and cello solos are replaced by viola, played by Lawrence Power with his customary seductiveness' (The Sunday Times)
'Full of vitality and warmth, with bright brass and energetic strings in upfront perspective against a resonant acoustic … Lawrence Power as viola soloist … responds generously to the passages of hushed intenstity in the Choral varié' (BBC Music Magazine)
'Scintillance and flair… enthusiastically recommended' (Fanfare, USA)
Le camp de Wallenstein [9'54]
Max et Thécla [12'36]
La mort de Wallenstein [14'26]
Saugefleurie Op 21 [17'25]
Vincent d’Indy is one of many great nineteenth-century composers whose reputation has suffered through the vagaries of fashion. Yet his fine body of works shows an imaginatively eclectic engagement with the musical trends of his age and a significant orchestral ability greater than that of his revered teacher César Franck. This disc from Thierry Fischer and The BBC National Orchestral of Wales presents a fascinating selection of d’Indy’s orchestral works.
Wallenstein, an early and substantial programmatic work, reflects d’Indy’s love of Germany and its culture. Based on a poetic drama by Schiller about doomed love in the Thirty Years’ War, it consists of three interlinked symphonic orvertures, employing cyclic themes and other Wagnerian techniques. The superbly poetic symphonic poem Saugefleurie is also a programmatic work. Although the influence of Wagner is again apparent, the music is characteristically French in its sonorous refinement and clear luminous orchestration.
Two charming and brilliantly conceived single-movement works for solo viola and orchestra showcase the talents of Hyperion artist Lawrence Power.
Other recommended albums
In view of the sheer range of the distinguished contributions to the musical culture of France by Vincent d’Indy (1851–1931) during the Third Republic—as a composer, conductor, teacher and early-music revivalist—the subsequent sharp decline in his reputation is particularly unjust. Known today mainly as the one-work composer of the Symphonie sur un chant montagnard français (Symphonie cévenole, 1886), his fine body of works in many forms—including opera, orchestral and chamber music—shows an imaginatively eclectic engagement with the musical trends of his age. While his early works are strongly influenced by the Wagner fever which gripped musical and literary Paris in the final decades of the nineteenth century—he himself was present at the Bayreuth premiere of Der Ring des Nibelungen in 1876—the later ones admit some influence of Debussy, whom he encouraged. Nevertheless, he countered what he perceived as the formally disintegrative tendencies of Wagnerism and Impressionism with the strong sense of classical musical structure instilled by his revered teacher César Franck, based on the intensive study of Bach and Beethoven.
In contrast with Franck—a church organist by profession—d’Indy possessed a greater orchestral imagination gained in his early years as a freelance horn player and subsequently as timpanist in the Orchestre Colonne. At the same time, as a fervent French regionalist and Roman Catholic, he regarded both the folk music of his beloved native Ardèche and the traditional Gregorian chant as a prime means of renewing the melodic dimension of opera and symphonic music. His compositional ideas and philosophy were systematized in his once influential and compendious Cours de composition musicale, the basis of his teaching at the Schola Cantorum in Paris, of which he was among the founders in 1894. Nevertheless, this strongly pedagogic aspect of his work should not be permitted to obscure the quite independent merits of his best music, characterized by a colour and atmosphere very far removed from academic aridity.
Wallenstein, an early and substantial programmatic work, reflects d’Indy’s love of Germany and its culture. Based on Friedrich Schiller’s poetic drama Wallenstein, it consists of three interlinked symphonic overtures, employing cyclic themes and other Wagnerian techniques. Laboriously composed during the years 1870–81, the complete trilogy was premiered in 1881 by the Concerts Lamoureux. The subject-matter is an episode in the Thirty Years’ War in seventeenth-century Europe featuring the eminent but treacherous General of the Imperial Hapsburg forces, Albrecht von Wallenstein. But at the same time as he is being suspected of treason towards the Emperor Ferdinand II, his subordinate officer Octavio Piccolini is himself plotting against him. Meanwhile, the love affair between Piccolini’s loyal soldier son Max and Wallenstein’s own daughter Thekla (Thécla) has created an emotionally complex and ultimately doomed situation. The fate of Wallenstein himself was sealed with his assassination in 1634.
Le camp de Wallenstein portrays the victorious Imperial army triumphant before the devastated city of Magdeburg. Its raw energy and high spirits are well captured by the rhythmic opening theme in G major, strongly reminiscent of the ‘forging motif’ in Wagner’s Siegfried, which leads to an energetic waltz-style second theme. After a grotesque three-part fugato for bassoons, depicting a group of monks preaching to the crowds, the majestic theme of Wallenstein himself looms up—a strongly rising idea in B minor clearly derived from the ‘sword motif’ in Wagner’s Ring, dramatically stated by a solo trombone against tremolando strings.
Max et Thécla evokes Wallenstein’s treason, the lovers’ unfulfilled liaison and Max’s death in combat. A substantial elegiac Andante in E flat major introduces three new ideas: Max’s heroic theme, first stated in the horns; the powerful motif of fate, characterized by a sextuplet figure; and a fragment of Thécla’s conventionally gentle and feminine theme in the woodwind. After the ensuing rhythmically energetic Allegro risoluto section, which includes a dramatic development of Wallenstein’s theme, the central Andante tranquillo at last gives Thécla’s theme its full expansion in a luminous B major. In the tragic coda, fragments of the lovers’ themes are heard in the broken accents of grief, intensified by the motif of fate in the timpani.
La mort de Wallenstein is powerfully sombre in tone. Its very slow introduction evokes Wallenstein’s firm belief in astrology by means of a mysterious sequence of ‘astral harmonies’, namely the chords of B, D and F minor in mediant relationships. This is followed by Wallenstein’s theme, sounded pianissimo on the horn. In the ensuing B minor Allegro, the modified fate motif and the warlike soldiers’ music of Le camp are developed at length, while the central Andante tranquillo brings a pathetic reminiscence of Thécla’s theme in the remote keys of E and E flat major, together with Max’s theme and the fate motif. In the overwhelming peroration, fragments of Wallenstein’s theme, gradually extinguished, are heard against the ‘astral harmonies’ and rushing string scales, the effect resembling the final pages of Götterdämmerung.
Choral varié is an unconventionally conceived yet well integrated work for solo saxophone or viola and orchestra. Employing an eclectic variety of styles, it was composed in 1903, soon after the classical Second Symphony, the period of d’Indy’s full maturity and technical mastery. Although, like certain other French composers such as Bizet, he well understood the saxophone’s expressive potential—his opera Fervaal and the late Poème des rivages each use four of them—the alternative version for solo viola featured in this recording proves to be most successful.
The grave and dignified chorale theme, first stated in C minor by clarinets and bassoons, consists of two segments—the first characterized by descending intervals, the second rising and falling by step. Subsequently, these segments are separated and treated individually. The viola enters with lyrical music derived from segment 1, followed by a development of segment 2; the music quickens as the key changes to E flat major and the full orchestra takes over. Rising chromatic lines lead to an impressively austere ceremonial-style section in G minor on the brass, based on segment 1, with agitated string interjections. Segment 2 reappears in the cellos and basses below the viola’s new flowing countermelody in a mood of deep intimacy. A striking Impressionistic section characterized by augmented triad harmonies and ostinato patterns in the woodwind ensues, with segment 2 played on horns, repeated bouché (hand-stopped). The tonality returns to C minor as the viola develops segment 1, together with broad expansions of segment 2, into an efflorescence of quaver groupings of seven and nine; the accompanying texture, more conventionally romantic, consists of harp arpeggios and pizzicato strings. In violent contrast, the austere ceremonial music based on segment 1 reappears in the woodwind, brass and harps, intensified by modal harmonic progressions which further enhance the deliberately archaic atmosphere; in addition to the agitated rising string arpeggios, the viola adds its own expressive interjections. Urgently rising chromatic lines lead to the very slow coda, briefly bringing back the viola’s mood of intimacy, gradually dying away.
Composed during a particularly fertile period which also produced the Symphonie cévenole (1886), d’Indy’s symphonic poem Saugefleurie was written in 1884 and premiered by the Concerts Lamoureux the following year. Its programmatic basis consists of a poem taken from Contes des fées by his boyhood friend Robert de Bonnières, a minor literary figure. Saugefleurie, a humble, lonely yet charming little fairy, living in a hollow tree trunk by a lake, is surprised by a splendid royal hunt with its brilliant display of uniforms, hounds and horn fanfares, led by the King’s son in person. Their eyes meet in an unspoken love; although Saugefleurie knows that she is therefore destined to die, she gives herself to the Prince and accepts the consequences. ‘Love and Death are always lying in wait: / Do not believe that she for whom I weep / was spared, / She expired within the hour / Like a Sageflower such as she was.’ (‘Amour et Mort sont toujours a l’affût: / Ne croyez pas que celle que je pleure / Fut épargnée, / Elle sécha sur l’heure / Comme une Fleur de Sauge qu’elle fût.’)
The Wagnerian influence is still very apparent, yet the music remains characteristically French in its sonorous refinement and clear luminous orchestration. Four melodic ideas are announced in the introductory Assez lent et calme section in the key of A flat major. The first of these, rising and falling in a rich Wagnerian texture of divided cellos in four parts, sets the rustic scene; the second in the horns, rising chromatically à la Tristan und Isolde, stands for ideal love; the third, a lyrical melody with triplet quavers represents Saugefleurie herself, appropriately stated by a solo viola; this is brusquely interrupted by the fourth theme, an incisively sinister rhythmic motif in the violins, signifying fate and destiny. The last of these is subsequently taken up by muted horns as the music becomes increasingly urgent. A new C major leaping theme in the horns, brilliantly evoking the royal hunt and very obviously derived from Siegfried, dominates the following section. Another new and virile melody also emerges, representing the Prince, while the rhythmic idea of fate becomes increasingly prominent. The calm atmosphere of the A flat opening eventually returns like an oasis, featuring Saugefleurie’s melody played by flutes and upper strings with a broken-chord accompaniment on two harps, a magical effect. An extended and varied development of her melody, together with the Prince’s theme, reaches the bright tonality of E major. Eventually, the Tristan-esque idea significantly reappears followed by the C major hunting-horn music, which gradually disappears into the distance. As the music winds down, the rhythmic motif of fate is now heard in conjunction with the Tristan-esque idea as Saugefleurie expires. The superbly poetic coda in the initial A flat tonality depicts her transfiguration as the solo viola and flute play her lyrical melody in a most imaginative texture of quaver movement on two piccolos, timpani rolls and tappings, broken chords on harps, and widespread string chords.
Dedicated to the cellist Adolphe Fischer, the early Lied for solo cello and small orchestra, like the Choral varié, exists in an alternative version for solo viola. There are two main themes, the first in B flat major, marked Andantino non troppo, lyrically expansive and characterized by a tritone interval; the second in G minor, plus animé, is, by contrast, simple and folk-like. In the course of their subsequent developments, the first theme emerges very gently on the viola to a background of rustling strings, reminiscent of Siegfried’s ‘forest murmurs’. But it is the rustic second theme that receives the most imaginative treatment—played on high strings in double octaves with woodwind chirrupings in an astonishing texture which anticipates Ravel, and later, in viola harmonics accompanied by two flutes in the remote key of E minor. In the final B flat major coda, a brief series of solo harmonics rises towards the ether.
Andrew Thomson © 2009