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You need only glance at the orchestra to see that the Divertissement began life in the theatre pit, as incidental music. With solo winds and brass and a varied and busy percussion section, the band is calculated to conjure a bright instrumental palette in tints and splashes of light, Mediterranean colour; perfect for a French farce about an Italian Straw Hat. The hat in question is eaten by a horse that is meant to deliver a groom to his wedding. Delays and chaos inevitably, delightfully ensue. After the opening carnival of scales (very Saint-Saëns) comes a funeral march—or is it an abortive wedding march? Mendelssohn keeps poking his head around the door, and the reference to the sublime madness of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is only too appropriate. But the following Nocturne is entirely French in character—you can almost see Belmondo and rings of cigarette smoke through the light string haze.

The wedding party returns to dance a waltz. When the most famous of them all appears, who knows whether it’s in nosethumbing parody or affectionate homage? Erik Satie wrote a ballet, Parade, and this movement shares its riotous surrealism. The bizarre juxtapositions of key reach a climax with the opening crashes of the finale. A policeman blows his whistle in a vain attempt to halt the carnage. Not a note is wasted. Even if you could hardly tell that Ibert loved Wagner, or followed the radical journey of Boulez and friends with interest, the Divertissement would be less diverting if it lacked such polymathic perfectionism.

from notes by Peter Quantrill © 2011


Ravel, Fauré & Poulenc: LCO Live
SIGCD211Download only


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