This composer’s music, which encompasses all genres, remains largely unknown to most listeners, with a few exceptions: Jacques Ibert’s (1890-1962) evocative and lushly scored Escales (“Ports of Call”) recalls the Impressionism of Debussy; his entertaining and downright loony Divertissement is a wacky suite of incidental music for a play, The Italian Straw Hat. The fact is, however, that there is a great deal of music to be “discovered” in the catalog of this Frenchman. (He even wrote music for the 1948 Orson Welles film version of Macbeth.)
When this Flute Concerto – written for the legendary French master, Marcel Moyse, in 1934 – was first played by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, in 1949, Halsey Stevens included Ibert in a group of “composers who may be considered peripheral – whose work, for one reason or another, is not circumscribed by the more or less arbitrary boundaries of major musical trends… What distinguishes these composers is that they have been touched lightly if at all by the musical events that have gone on about them; that any use they may make of the technical innovations of their colleagues is superficial; and that their own exploration of tonal resources beyond those they have inherited is slight.” It might be worth revealing that the list of “peripheral” composers also included Rachmaninoff!
Far from being superficial, or even lightweight, Ibert’s Flute Concerto is densely textured (despite the reduced orchestra) and thematically and harmonically intricate. The solo part is supremely demanding throughout, whether in the rapid passagework of the outer movements or in the sustained lyrical interludes in the evocative middle movement.
DETAILS: First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: January 20, 1949, with flutist George Drexler, Alfred Wallenstein conducting.
Orchestration: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, trumpet, timpani, strings, and solo flute.
Dennis Bade is the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Director of Publications.