> FRANCAIS Symphony + other orchestral [HC]: Classical CD Reviews- May2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Jean FRANÇAIX (1912 – 1997)
Symphony in G major (1953)
Sérénade (1934)
Ouverture anacréontique (1978)
Pavane pour un Génie vivant (1987)
Scuola di Ballo (1933)
The Ulster Orchestra/Thierry Fischer
Recorded: Ulster Hall, Belfast, September 2001
HYPERION CDA 67323 [70:23]


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Throughout his long composing life Jean Françaix remained faithful to his own ideals of clarity and elegance. These he chose to express in his particular brand of Gallic Neo-classicism though he always managed to inflect it with unexpected rhythmic and harmonic twists.

The earlier work here, the ballet Scuola di Ballo (1933, though it might be still earlier than that) is a clear product of its times when Stravinsky surprised his followers with his iconoclastic Pulcinella based on themes of Pergolesi and when a number of composers such as Respighi, Tommasini or (somewhat later) Britten based ballet scores on older musicians’ music. Françaix’s delightful ballet, on themes of Boccherini, is piquantly scored for small orchestra, but it is decidedly light stuff.

I have always retained a real affection for the wonderful Sérénade of 1934. It was the very first work by Françaix that I ever heard. I have loved it ever since. It is a splendid example of its composer’s Neo-classicism "with a French accent": clear orchestration with a typical liking for wind instruments, catchy tunes and ideal proportions. Such music never outstays its welcome.

Jean Françaix composed three symphonies of which the Second (for string orchestra) is undoubtedly the finest. The present Symphony in G major, completed in 1953, overtly pays homage to Haydn, for whom Françaix obviously has a sincere affection. Françaix’s work is modelled on Haydn’s own symphonies and its four short movements, of which the third one is a Minuet and Trio, are full of typical Françaix fingerprints.

The Ouverture anacréontique of 1978 may be one of Françaix’s longest single movements. It opens with a beautiful slow introduction (one of his finest inventions) leading into a dancing middle section in turn leading to a restatement of the introduction capped by a brilliant Coda based on the earlier dance section.

Composed to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Ravel’s death, Pavane pour un Génie vivant inevitably brings Ravel’s beautiful Pavane pour une Infante Défunte to mind. (The opening tune of Françaix’s work is almost that of Ravel’s ... upside down.) A heartfelt homage for all its simplicity, and a perfect example of what Françaix could achieve with the simplest means.

Recordings of Françaix’s superbly crafted music are always a joy, and the present release is no exception. Fine performances on all counts and a well judged selection of Françaix’s prolific and varied output, which I unreservedly recommend. I for one hope that more of Françaix’s refreshing music will soon be recorded by the same forces.

Hubert Culot

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