Aureole etc.

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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

André MESSAGER (1853-1925)
Symphony in A (1875)
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)

Allegro Symphonique [Suite d’orchestre] Op. 68 (1867-73)
César FRANCK (1822-1890)

Variations Symphoniques for Piano and Orchestra (1885)
Jean-Pierre Ferey (piano)
Orchestre Symphonique du Mans/José-André Gendille
Rec. live, concert 29 March 1992 at the Dortoir des Moines of the Abbaye de l’Epau
SKARBO DSK 3921 [59.15]


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This must have been one of the last recordings made by the Le Mans Symphony Orchestra founded by Jean Françaix’s father in the 1920s. It flourished for many years, turning professional in the 1980s, only to disband in 1996 due to money shortages. In 1992 they were recorded live giving a Franco-Belgian concert of symphonic literature of which only one work, the perennial Franck, will be familiar. The advantage for the record buyer is clear – two works not otherwise (to the best of my knowledge) in the catalogue given in good, disaster-free performances and in idiomatic style. The disadvantage is the quality of the unearthed material because, in all honesty, and as one who reveres Fauré, it would take the oratory of Plato to defend this slight effusion. His op 68 was a Suite d’orchestre in three movements of which this is the first, and written between 1867 and 1873. Its premiere was given in piano duet form by the composer and Saint-Saëns. Whilst it would be wrong to say that the work is not without merit – it embeds some delightful lightness and lyrical felicities in the score – the material as such is neither particularly distinctive nor especially symphonic. The lyricism moreover doesn’t quite "join up," Fauré clearly having some difficulty with the syntax of a larger orchestral score. As a result it seems sectional, and rather shapeless despite the relative formality of the name by which it is now known, the Allegro Symphonique. Allegro pas de Symphonique is perhaps a more apt title, for all its straining after a degree of grandeur. The orchestral strings of the Le Mans orchestra sound a mite undernourished here, though the brass are nicely warm and shape well.

Messager wrote a symphony. It was news to me as well. He was twenty-two, full of ambition and presumably eager to join the symphonic club. The symphony was first performed by that indefatigable promoter of the native literature and spotter of talent, Colonne, in 1878. In the expected classical four movements this is a solidly mid-century Mendelssohnian work. The first movement – sonata form – is fresh nevertheless and melodic and goes with a mellifluous ease with occasional Schumannesque outbursts. The slow movement is gravely attractive and lyrical and has a curiously compelling seriousness – it might do to extract this as an occasional piece because it’s too good to lie languishing on the shelves. The presto has a slightly heavy tread in a Mendelssohnian way but is full of life with verdant wind choirs and gruff lower strings. Messager can’t resist a youthful flirtation with fugato but the trio is nicely spun and relaxed. The finale hardly surmounts that nineteenth century conundrum, the Symphonic Finale Problem, but whilst hardly distinguished thematically is at least sturdy and pleasant. The Franck is of course the odd man out. It receives an equable and attractive reading avoiding the brittleness that can afflict other performances – some warmth here and attentive musicality from Jean-Pierre Ferey.

The recordings are decent – some of the fortes in the Messager seem a little harsh – and the repertoire of interest to Francophiles looking for youthful evidence of traditional symphonic aspirations from two composers who made their names predominantly in other forms.

Jonathan Woolf

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