> VIERNE Symphony [RB]: Classical Reviews- Aug 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Louis VIERNE (1870-1937)
Symphony in A minor (1908) [38.48]
Poème for piano and orchestra (1924) [22.23]
François Kerdoncuff (piano)
Orchestre Philharmonique de Liège/Pierre Bartholomée
rec 25-29 June 1996, Salle du Conservatoire Royal, Liège, France
TIMPANI 1C1036 [61.32]
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The single orchestral Symphony of Poitiers-born Louis Vierne will be well liked by anyone who favours the symphonies by César Franck, Franz Schmidt and Elgar. It is in four movements with the vigorous and desperately romantic first and third movements framing a lack-lustre Lamento. The finale is positive and again picks up Franckian determination mixed with the sort of forward-pressing theme you find in Elgar's Cockaigne and First Symphony. At 05.00 in the finale that whirling determination sounds uncannily like part of the finale of Bax's Sixth Symphony written in 1934. The Vierne is dedicated to Gabriel Fauré. I have distant memories of Georges Tzipine's performance on, what I seem to recall was, an old Erato LP. The orchestra was the ORTF SO and the coupling was the orchestral version of the song cycle Spleen et Détresses. Does anyone still have that LP and if so would you mind sending me a CDR if you can possibly make one. I would love to be able to compare the performances.

After hearing this Symphony I wondered what a Vierne symphony written after the Great War would have sounded like. I suspect that had he written one it would have been a work that, if the Piano Quintet and Solitude are anything to go by, would have held the international stage. Now Timpani, come on, and please record the first two and the last two Ropartz symphonies either in Liège or in Strasbourg.

The Poème for piano and orchestra is the antithesis of showiness. This is not a piece you would have had from Stojowski or Saint-Saëns. Vierne took the way of sincerity and gravity. I wonder if Vierne had heard John Foulds' Dynamic Triptych (also for piano and orchestra and recorded on a Lyrita Recorded Edition CD) for the introduction sounds rather like the calmer parts of that work. There is also a contemplative or meditative quality to the music similar to the slow and irresistible acceptance of baleful fate in Seul - the last Prélude in Vierne's Op. 36 set. The second section bears an early Prokofiev imprint and it is quite likely that Vierne would have heard Prokofiev in concert in Paris well before he wrote this Poème. A dreamy andante episode follows recalling the calm cradling of Seul crossed with John Ireland's Forgotten Rite and Legend. I am not sure how well resolved this piece is; the quicker music is not necessarily of such transfixing quality as the slower. Overall the work reminded me of the jazziness of Walton's contemporary Sinfonia Concertante for piano and orchestra (premiered by York Bowen in London). Kerdoncuff, by now an adept Vierne specialist, is fluent and full of thoughtful and lively touches. The Liègeois orchestra is good though the French Horn at 5.40 seems to be holding on to the buoyant theme by his(?) finger-nails.

The Poème was written at Pontaillac near the Atlantic port of Royan. It was one of two such non-concerto works. They were written for the pair who had put Vierne up to writing his violin sonata - Raoul Pugno and Eugène Ysaye. For Ysaye he followed up with the Ballade for violin and orchestra. I rather wish that space had been made on the recent Hyperion/Graffin disc of rare French music for violin and orchestra for Vierne's Ballade alongside the lovely pastoral landscape of Canteloube's Poème. Has the Vierne work ever been recorded? If anyone has a copy do contact me please. While considering this why not a recording of Pierné's Fantaisie Basque for violin and orchestra. This was written in 1927 so is practically contemporary with the Canteloube and the Vierne.

Excellent supportive notes by Harry Halbreich and Vierne expert Jean-Pierre Mazeirat. Mazeirat is to Vierne what Lewis Foreman is to Bax and Diana McVeagh to Gerald Finzi.

In summary: a positively confident though not completely successful symphony in the Franck-Elgar mode. The Poème, touched with orientalism, is a not completely comfortable conjunction of subtle and obvious. Intriguing all the same.

Rob Barnett

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