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Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Symphony No. 1 in D major (1855) [28:29]
Symphony No. 2 in E flat major (1855) [39:45]
Sinfonia Finlandia Jyväskylä/Patrick Gallois
rec. Concert Hall, Suolahti, Finland, 13-15 May 2004.
NAXOS 8.557463 [68:14]
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Gounod may be thought of as something of a one-hit-wonder. For fans of orchestral music, that hit is Funeral March for a Marionette. For opera fans, it is Faust; OK, real opera fans will likely know his other operas as well. But Gounod the symphonist is likely to be a new experience, as it was for me.
Gounod wrote two symphonies. However, those expecting French symphonies, or French-sounding symphonies - whatever that means, exactly - are likely to be disappointed. His early education took him to Italy and Germany, and later in life he spent much of his time in England, so it’s not surprising that he’s not tied to mid-century France. It may be more surprising that he is tied to turn-of-century Vienna. His first symphony sounds very much like late Mozart. It is full of charm and grace, with particularly attractive woodwind writing. This mood is only slightly broken by a funeral march at the beginning of the second movement that only hints at those in Beethoven’s third and seventh symphonies. Gounod’s second is very much like the first two symphonies of Beethoven. It begins with a declamatory theme that sounds heavy with portent, insistently unfolded through the first movement. The mood of the rest of the symphony might be described as “gently jaunty,” particularly the third-movement scherzo.
Patrick Gallois is best known as a flutist, a role he has recently filled in a number of recordings for Naxos, such as the complete flute concerti of C.P.E. Bach. However, life on the podium is not new to him; he has also conducted early Haydn symphonies, again on Naxos. Such references point out his sympathy for the classical idiom, which he brings out to good effect in Gounod’s works. The Sinfonia Finlandia Jyväskylä do not have a rich enough sound for (say) Debussy, but in these works they have admirable rhythmic snap and clarity of texture.
If you are willing to set aside expectations of the Romanticism of Gounod’s contemporaries and students, and enjoy his anachronistic late-Classicism, this is an admirable recording for getting to know these relatively unknown symphonies.
Brian Burtt



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