Théodore GOUVY (1819-1898)
Symphony No. 2 in F major op. 12 (1848-49) [31:41]
Paraphrases Symphoniques op. 89 (1886) [14:22]
Fantaisie Symphonique (1879) [25:31]
Württembergische Philharmonie Reutlingen/Thomas Kalb
rec. Studio DRR, Württembergische Philharmonie, Germany, 11-12 March 2008, 15 July 2008, 17-18 September 2008. DDD
STERLING CDS-1087-2 [71:56]
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 a Requiem, 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 beetling Grave 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. These are 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.
Rob Barnett
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