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CD: Crotchet AmazonUK AmazonUS

Albéric MAGNARD (1865-1914)
CD 1
Symphony No. 1 in C minor op. 4 (1890) [31:07]
Symphony No. 2 in E major op. 6 (1893) [36:04]
CD 2
Symphony No. 3 in B flat minor op. 11 (1896) [37:33]
Symphony No. 4 in C sharp minor op. 21 (1913) [35:40]
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Jean-Yves Ossonce
rec. 10-11 September, 16-17 December 1997. DDD
originally issued separately in 1999 as CDA67030 (1/2) and CDA67031 (3/4)
HYPERION DYAD CDD22068 [67:17 + 73:18]
Experience Classicsonline

This satisfying music moves gradually from Franck and D'Indy towards a new though hardly revolutionary impressionism.
Oldsters will know Magnard's name from the Decca analogue recording of the Third Symphony made by Ernest Ansermet and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. It has since been reissued by Australian Eloquence. During the 1970s the Toulouse Capitole and Michel Plasson recorded all four works plus the Chant Funèbre for French Pathé-EMI. The Plassons have been reissued on three CDs and in a single 3 CD set. Thomas Sanderling – son of Kurt - also recorded the four symphonies for BIS (review).
The First Symphony opens in densely decorated Franckian grandeur. The second movement is ecclesiastical, deploying long and distinguished musical lines and rising to a big Elgarian treatment of the theme at 5:50. The third movement is a boisterous presto. It is succeeded by a final impassioned Brahmsian molto allegro with exciting woodwind contributions and explosive lightning-strike contributions from the violins.
The Second Symphony opens with a lively Ouverture. The second movement, Danses, is music-box-bright where ideas dart and glisten. The third movement Chant Varié is Wagnerian. Its silvery strings lend real enchantment although this is the one movement where meandering descends into noodling and the attention may drift. The finale is a movement marked vif  - a favoured marking for Magnard - where the spirit of Bizet's L’Arlésienne haunts the pages. The piece ends in celebration and with startling pre-echoes of Janáček's Sinfonietta.
The Introduction to the Third Symphony 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 très vif) sets off at an explosive presto, scurrying and businesslike. The third movement sags somewhat, suffering from meandering. The finale is grandly life-enhancing, flighty and emphatic. At 5:10 an echoing figure for the strings counterpoints a gloomier idea on the brass – it’s pure magic. The strings are often engaged in mysterious scampering. This is redolent of Sibelius and after much silky work for the sensitive violins the work ends with Elgarian resolve.
The Fourth Symphony opens with warm winds blowing up from the South like the Mistral or Föhn. The temperature is a couple of degrees cooler than the 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 Kodály. Here it becomes apparent that Ossonce has split the violins, first and second, left and right 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 an evocation of the glistening grandeur of a cathedral roof far above. 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 symphonic satisfaction.
The notes by composer Francis Pott are substantial and informative. They are in English, French and German.
Ossonce, the BBC Scottish and Hyperion sweep the board. The recordings are modern and the performances are fully the equal of Magnard's romantically impressionistic music. The discs – once to be had separately – are now available in a single width hinge-out case.
Rob Barnett


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