Symphony No. 1 in C minor (1890) 31:07
Symphony No. 2 in E major (1893) 36:04
Symphony No. 3 in B flat minor (1896) 37:33
Symphony No. 4 in C sharp minor (1913) 35:40
BBC Scottish SO/Jean-Yves Ossonce
recorded Sept, Dec 1997
HYPERION CDA67030 (1/2) 67:17
HYPERION CDA67031 (3/4) 73:18
(both discs available separately)
It is possible that you will recall Magnard's name. You may well know of
it and have heard the third symphony from a recording made by Decca in the
1960s when it was recorded by Ernest Ansermet with the Orchestre de la Suisse
Romande. Then again during the 1970s the Toulouse Capitole Orchestra recorded
all four works plus the Chant Funèbre for French EMI and these
have been reissued on three CDs in recent years.
The present discs are utter gems. Ossonce and the Hyperion treatment accorded
to the BBC Scottish sweep the board. The recording are modern and the
performances are fully the equal of Magnard's romantically impressionistic
music. Both discs are available separately and if you can afford only one
then buy the disc coupling the two later symphonies. The music moves gradually
from Franck and D'Indy towards a new though hardly revolutionary impressionism.
The first symphony opens in a densely decorated grandeur - all very Franckian.
The second movement is ecclesiastical, deploying long and distinguished musical
lines and rising to a bright and big treatment of the theme at 5:50 in Elgarian
spirit. There is a notably fine trumpet solo. The third movement is a boisterous
presto like the wild dance of a witches' coven. The finale is a Brahmsian
molto allegro with exciting woodwind contributions, impassioned string
playing and explosive lightning-strike contributions from the violins. It
ends in regal brass work.
The second symphony opens with a lively Ouverture. The second movement
Danses is like a roundabout; musicbox bright and inspired with ideas
darting and glistening. The third movement Chant Varie is Wagnerian
and its silvery strings lend a real enchantment to the proceedings although
this is the one movement where meandering descends into noodling and the
attention drifts. The finale is a movement marked vif )(a favoured
marking) where the spirit of Bizet's Arlesienne haunts the pages.
It ends in further celebration and with startling pre-echoes of Janacek's
The third symphony may well be familiar from the Ansermet recording. As far
as I am aware the Ansermet is not currently available but I do recall hearing
it. Memory suggests a totally dedicated performance which may well, in
interpretation, be the superior to Ossonce. In any event the recording will
be no match for Hyperion. The Introduction is darkly choleric like a cave
of the darkest dreams. The atmosphere is strong and the roof of the cave
is decorated by the gentlest of strings with glowing lights. The second
Danses (again tres vif) sets off at an explosive presto, scurrying
and businesslike. The third movement sags somewhat, suffering from meandering
which I take to be endemic to this movement as well as the similar movement
in No. 2. The finale is life-enhancing, darting, energetic, flighty and emphatic
with grand ideas. It is romantic and modern and at 5:10 an echoing figure
for the strings counterpoints a gloomier figure on the brass in a passage
of pure magic. The strings are often engaged in mysterious scampering redolent
of Sibelius's string writing and after much silky-toned subtle work for the
sensitive violins the work ends with Elgarian resolve.
The final symphony opens with hot warm winds blowing up from the South like
the Mistral. The temperature may be a couple of degrees cooler than the whistling
Hadean winds of Francesca da Rimini. The vif second movement is stirringly
colourful, strongly flavoured with the music of rural France, Canteloube's
Auvergne and even a hint of the rustic Kodaly. Here it becomes apparent that
Ossonce has split the violins, first and second, left and right rather as
Boult customarily did. It makes for an excellent musical effect. I wish more
conductors would do it. The Chant Varié is Rimskian with more echoing
delicacy for the violins and the an evocation of the glistening grandeur
of a cathedral roof far above us. The finale has a tendency towards heavy
molasses but it ends in the most pellucid of textures with a calm unwinding
return to the original theme and an ineffable sense of journey's done and
The notes are in both cases generously long and informative. They are in
English, French and German. There are no notes about the BBC Scottish (no
great loss as we know about their silky strengths from other Hyperion releases)
but it is mildly disappointing to go looking for information about Ossonce
and find nothing at all. Ossonce is known to me from these two discs, Chabrier's
incomplete opera Briseis and the piano concertos by Hahn and Massenet
all on Hyperion and from a Naxos set of the Massenet suites. He also directed
the BBC National Orchestral of Wales in a studio broadcast of Symphony No
1 by Dohnanyi. This was in 1995 before any commercial company had got around
to doing a recording. Ossonce is a name and reputation to be watched.
The notes are by the unfairly overlooked romantic composer Francis Pott whose
strongly-structured Farewell to Hirta, a rewardingly romantic hour-long
work for cello and piano, can be found on the Swiss Guild label GMCD7141.
Design and technical values are up to Hyperion's usual high standards.
Whence now? I rather hope that Hyperion will tackle the six glowingly romantic
symphonies (I know 3-5) of Ropartz and Florent Schmitt's unrecorded cello
concerto Introit, Recit et Congé. After that
can hope perhaps for the similarly Southern Josef Marx's orchestral works
of the 1920s especially the reputedly very fine Naturtrilogie and
the Herbstsinfonie. Connoisseurs prepare for discoveries to come.
For now do not overlook this fine release. It carries music that you will
hear and remember to hear again.