D’Indy: Istar

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LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Istar, Op. 42; Choral Varié, Op. 55; Symphony No. 3, Op. 70; Diptyque méditerranéen, Op. 87
PERFORMER: Sigurour Flosason (saxophone); Iceland SO/Rumon Gamba


The word ‘symphonie’ tended to do terrible things to the French brain and, especially after the Franco-Prussian war, the demon ‘earnestness’ lurked, seeking whom it might devour.

Debussy perhaps wisely refrained from calling La mer a symphony, though it has most of the attributes of one. D’Indy’s Third Symphony of 1916-18, subtitled ‘De bello gallico’, is, I’m sorry to say, a classic case of earnestness run riot (if that’s what earnestness does). ‘Guess which chord I’m going to put down next’, he seems to say, ‘and I bet you’ll be wrong’; and this to the detriment of any strong melodic invention or true harmonic interest. Altogether it comes down on the wrong side of Dukas’s distinction between complexity and complication.

Melodic invention and harmonic interest are, happily, abundant in the earlier ballet Istar and in the delightful Diptyque méditerranéen, written in the mid-1920s under the influence of a warm sea and a blissful second marriage.


Rumon Gamba, who certainly does his best with the intractable material of the Symphony, here draws deeply sympathetic playing from his orchestra, leaving us to wish that d’Indy had always composed thus. As readers of his early diary and letters will know, beneath the formal crust he had a warm heart. Roger Nichols