Hyperion Records

Choral varié, Op 55
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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 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.

from notes by Andrew Thomson © 2009

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