Gouvy, a friend of Lalo, Massenet and Saint-Saens, suffered from
the polarisation that racked the relationship between Germany
and France in the nineteenth century and beyond. To the French
he was too German and vice versa. His life’s trajectory took in
Lorraine, Paris and Leipzig. There’s plenty to discover including
an opera Le Cid
, lots of chamber music and a sequence of
symphonies into which CPO
is making inroads
. His music now benefits from the promotion
of the Théodore Gouvy Institute, of the regional authorities of
Alsace-Lorraine and Saarland and now of Sterling.
The Second Symphony
’s first movement is redolent of Schumann
in its melodic material but injected with a Mendelssohnian lightness.
This can be heard in the more dramatic second movement which also
carries a flavour of French opera-ballet. A placidly serene and
unhurried Andante precedes a sprightly storm of a Finale. The
latter has a seraphic second subject. This points up the Mendelssohnian
vigour with real grace which not even the conventionality of the
final sign-off gesture can efface.
The Paraphrases Symphoniques
- a theme and variations
- was Gouvy's last orchestral work. It has something of Brahms’
geniality and dark clouds about it as in the St Anthony Variations
and the Tragic Overture
. The Fantaisie Symphonique
is the orchestral version of the Fantasy for Two Pianos
in G minor. It’s in three movements. There’s a long and very serious
with pre-echoes of Tchaikovsky’s Hamlet
about it. It’s shot through with grand dramatic gestures from
the vocabularies of Schumann and Mendelssohn. This long first
movement is rather like a dramatic Mendelssohn concert overture
such as Ruy Blas
or The Fair Melusine
. This is followed
by a pulse-calming sweet-tempered Adagio
. The slightly
longer finale Alla breve
steps forward with regal determination
- a touch of the fugal and of the warlike about it. The two movements
after the first are each about half the length of the first.
These are pleasing romantic works which, for the most part, stay
within the glossaries established by Mendelssohn, Schumann and
Brahms. If you enjoy the unnumbered symphonies of Saint-Saens
and the various symphonies by Méhul I think you will like these
very much. Spirited and engaging readings of music hitherto
lost in the choking dust of the nineteenth century and now rescued.
It’s all done in typical Sterling style.