Neeme Jarvi and his Orchestre de la Suisse Romande have been immersing themselves in French music lately, with noteworthy albums of Massenet, Chabrier and Offenbach. Now they turn to the urbane Jacques Ibert (1890-1962).
Ibert may not be a first-ranker, but he could have been a seventh member of Les Six, alongside Poulenc and Milhaud, as his best music shares their elegance and boisterous wit. His concertos for flute and alto saxophone, together with popular piano pieces and songs, have ensured that he lives on through the well-earned affection of players; surely the best testament a composer can have.
One feels the same affection throughout the generous 82 minutes of this sumptuously recorded Chandos release. From the shimmering exoticism of the three "ports of call" visited in his 1922 Escales to the knockabout antics of his 1930 Divertissement, one is bewitched by this master colourist.
The Swiss musicians obviously enjoy the revelries of Ibert's 1930 symphonic suite, Paris, although its fragmented structure betrays its origins in incidental music and sterner listeners might not warm to yet another tongue-in-cheek waltz.
Fascinating curiosities include a substantial Ouverture de fete, celebrating the 2600th anniversary of the Japanese Empire with fanfares, flourishes and fugue. It was an ill-fated work for Western audiences at the time as, a year later, an early morning attack on Pearl Harbour turned the world around.
Unequivocally delightful is a five-minute Hommage a Mozart from 1956, a dexterous weave of old and new, served with the grace and piquancy demanded.
Ibert, Orchestral Works
(Chandos, through Ode Records)
Verdict: Estonian conductor and Swiss orchestra catch a French composer's wit and elegance.