Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Albéric MAGNARD (1865-1914)
Hymne à la Justice (1902) [14.59]
Suite dans le Style Ancien (1889) [13.58]
Chant Funèbre (1895) [15.57]
Ouverture (1894) [12.29]
Hymne à Vénus (1904) [13.51]
Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg/Mark Stringer
Rec. Luxembourg Conservatoire, 17-21 Sept 2001, DDD
TIMPANI 1C1067 [72.03]

Phone: 01380 728000
Fax: 01380 722244

There are three cycles of Magnard's four symphonies in the catalogue. Those sets are by Sanderling (Bis), Ossonce (Hyperion) and Plasson (EMI). The Plasson has been around the longest and is now in a mid-price French EMI 3CD box. The other two are on two CDs each. The Plasson is beginning to sound thin by comparison with the other two which are from the late 1990s. This is a pity as Plasson has a tight grip on these monuments to romantic determination. With these issues in the background this gathering together of the other orchestral works was a natural enough development.

The five pieces, each lasting between 10 and 15 minutes, are serious late-romantic essays. There are two hymnes, a chant (also recorded by Plasson as part of the 3CD set), a suite and an otherwise non-specific ouverture. They date from the period 1889 to 1904, taking as their temporal axle the turn of a century.

Magnard was much taken by the struggle for human rights, Written in the stressed wake of the Dreyfus affair Hymne à la Justice is a work of torment in which Brucknerian dress (Symphony No. 8) and Schumann's manner (Overture, Scherzo and Finale) meet a Franckian sensuality (7.22). It is that erotic deliquescence that sighs and laps through the other Hymne à Venus written two years after the Hymne à la Justice. This reminds the listener of nothing so much as Franck's Psyché with a rolling stormy turbulence that relates, probably unknowingly, to Suk's contemporaneous Asrael.

The five movement Suite dans le style ancien prepares the ground for pastiche re-inventions by Fauré and Ravel. It may remind some of us of Parry's First Symphony and of his English Suite. There were also moments when I thought of Elgar's Bach and Handel orchestrations. The Chant funèbre is dedicated to the 'memory of my father'. It is big-hearted and romantic spirit streams out untiringly: protesting, resentful and sorrowing. By a strange coincidence the recurrent tolling motif in the horns (6.10) relates to a similarly funereal symphonic piece William Alwyn's Hydriotaphia (Symphony No. 5). One can also, in this music, see from where d'Indy (Symphonie Cévennole) and Roussel (Symphony No. 1 Poème de la Forêt) drew their creative material. The Ouverture is not quite the Straussian 'blast' I was expecting. Its character is rather miscellaneous and unresolved. Much of it is tense with shimmering expectation but then comes some determined writing including recurrent gestures which seem to predict Nielsen in his Third Symphony as at 00.34. At other times the vivacious writing seems to refer to Dvořák's Carnival and finally to the chaffing birdsong that ends Bax's In the Faery Hills.

There is much pleasingly inventive writing in these five works. Magnard was a surprising composer whose originality reaches out from these scores. Another what if ... in this respect rather like George Butterworth, Cecil Cole, Heinrich Bienstock and Rudi Stephan. Each met death in the Great War.

Harry Halbreich's excellent notes grace this welcome release which should not be missed by anyone favourably inclined towards the surging late romantics. Enthusiastic playing from the Luxembourg orchestra who under Mark Stringer's direction bring a perfervid conviction to this music. Let us hope that the announced further Timpani collection of music by Ropartz (Sur Les Chaumes and Chasse du Prince Arthur amongst oither pieces) will be as good.

Rob Barnett

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