The c/o Chamber Orchestra Likes Divertissements!

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IBERT, BERNARD, BARTÓK, IPPOLITO: Divertissements / c/o Chamber Orch. / BIS SACD-2499

Here is a jolly but modern-slanted collection of divertimenti, all but one (the Bernard) by 20th-century composers. Although I generally praise Bis’ SACD sound quality, on this particular release, as in their ongoing series of C.P.E. Bach’s keyboard sonatas by Miklós Spányi, there’s a bit too much reverb which blurs what should be crisp attacks by the instruments. This is especially evident in the opening piece by Jacques Ibert. French composers like Ibert and especially Poulenc were famous for their dry wit, but in order to obtain that dry wit you need a bit drier sound in order for those fast staccato chords to be “sounded” properly. The c/o Chamber Orchestra fulfills their part of the bargain, but time and again their intentions are somewhat obscured by the almost deafening reverb.

Nonetheless, if one can get past this, the performances are very enjoyable. In the second piece of the Ibert, titled “Cortège,” the composer slyly quotes a bit of the Mendelssohn wedding march to good effect, and here as elsewhere the c/o orchestra has great fun with it. In “Valse,” he paraphrases On the Beautiful Blue Danube. All in all, then, it’s a wonderful performance, but I prefer the one by Yan-Pascal Tortelier on Chandos because the sound is crisper and far less resonant.

The divertissement of composer Émile Bernard is the anomaly here since the composer lived from 1848 to 1902, and thus can scarcely be called a modernist, but the music is lively and entertaining in its very French way and, oddly enough, the sound quality here is much tighter and less boomy, which allows you to hear the different instrumental voices much more clearly. And the music isn’t bad at all; on the contrary, it’s light and airy, sounding eerily akin to the scherzo in Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream incidental music. And the horn player (Carla Gedicke) is simply terrific.

The well-known Bartók divertimento is up next, and here again the boomy, over-resonant sound quality intrudes on some splendid music-making, although I did feel that the tempo in this was a shade slower than I usually like. Don’t these engineers know when to leave well enough alone? I guess not. Its only real plus is that it makes the chamber orchestra sound a little bigger than it really is, but the minuses are far too many, not least of which is that by dulling both the crispness of attack and the lively rhythm they make their performances sound a bit clumsy, even stodgy.

And then, lo and behold, we return to clean, crisp sound for the divertimento by Michael Ippolito (b. 1985). So I checked the recording dates and locations in the booklet. Believe it or not, the over-reverberant Ibert piece was recorded in the same location as the crystal-clear Bernard and Ippolito works (Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin) while only the Bartók was made at a different venue, and the engineer on both sessions was the same, Christian Feldgen. So I can’t figure it out myself. Incidentally, the Ippolito divertimento is nicely written with some witty, heavily-plucked basses in the slow second movement (“Aria burleske”) but not a very memorable work.

So there you have it. The sprightly playing of the c/o orchestra is sometimes buried under too much reverb, though the performances themselves are very good ones.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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