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Briefly Noted: Helmchen and d'Indy

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V. d'Indy, Symphonie sur un chant montagnard français (inter alia), M. Helmchen, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, M. Janowski
(PentaTone, 2011)
All too often, soloists play the same concertos over and over again. Every time that a performer makes a recording of a forgotten full-length work with orchestra, an angel gets its wings. Not coincidentally, these performers tend to rank high in my estimation for other reasons, too, like Bertrand Chamayou, who brought César Franck's Les Djinns to my attention a couple years ago. It comes as no surprise that Martin Helmchen, whose debut recital last week was one of the highlights of my year so far, has done the same thing. When I finally got around to listening to the German pianist's recording of Vincent d'Indy's Symphonie sur un chant montagnard français, a fine bit of listening, if not a masterpiece by any stretch of the definition, was waiting for me. (Not that it has never been recorded before: Aldo Ciccolini, Robert Casadesus, and even Jean-Yves Thibaudet have done it.) The "French mountain song" in question is a real one, collected by the composer in the Cévennes mountain range in the Massif Central, where d'Indy's family hailed from (although he was born in Paris), and it is given first to the English horn. Andrew Deruchie, in his recent book The French Symphony at the Fin de Siècle: Style, Culture, and the Symphonic Tradition, cites Berlioz's Harold en Italie as the most important model for d'Indy in this work, "replacing the exotic Abruzzi with his native Cévennes." Rather than thinking of the choice of the melody as a nationalistic gesture, Deruchie situates it as a parallel to peasant imagery in paintings by realists like Millet, Pissarro, and Van Gogh. Although he dedicated the piece to his first piano soloist, d'Indy took pains to maintain that the work should be thought of as a symphony, not as a piano concerto. Helmchen and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande embrace the piece's Romantic qualities, both delicate and over the top. Marek Janowski throws in two other lesser-known works of the same period, Saint-Saëns's second symphony and Chausson's Soir de fête.

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