Maurice EMMANUEL (1862-1938)
Ouverture pour un conte gai (1884) [5:41]

Symphonie no. 1 op. 18 (1919) [23:09]
Suite française (1935) [14:58]
Symphonie no. 2 Bretonne op. 25 (1913) [17:27]
Orchestre Philharmonique Slovène/Emmanuel Villaume
rec. Dec 2010, Ljubljana. DDD
TIMPANI 1C1189 [61:50]

French composer Maurice Emmanuel was born in Bar-sur-Aube. He numbered among his teachers Ernest Guiraud, Théodore Dubois, Léo Delibes and Louis-Albert Bourgault-Decoudray. His metier was musical history but he composed as well though his compositions are not numerous.

The present CD is not a recording premiere for these two quite short symphonies by the candidly tonal Emmanuel. There is one other CD of the two symphonies and in days of antiquity an LP of the Second. The most recent contender before Timpani was on Marco Polo 8.223507 CD from James Lockhart and the Rhenish Philharmonic Orchestra. This was recorded in 1991 and issued in 1993. As far as I know that CD is still available on that premium price but largely dormant label. On the other hand that disc does not include the Ouverture and Suite to which we are introduced and treated here. It does however include the 18 minute Poème du Rhône with the same Rhenish orchestra conducted by Gilles Nopre. From the vinyl epoch of the 1970s there was a Barclays-Inédit LP (995 035). This offered the Second Symphony from Jean Doussard directing the Orchestre Philharmonique de l'ORTF.

Turning now to the current CDC. The Slovenian Philharmonic are on good form and prove the point from the outset of the Overture pour un conte gai. This is a poetic, mercurial and spirited thing. Ideas flitting and luxuriate with the romantic approach predominant but with absurdist material intermingled.

The First Symphony of 1919 is in three compact movements. These are dreamy and abstracted, heart-touchingly poignant and then stormily and trampingly aggressive. Finally the music becomes thoughtful and is rounded with a sigh into a contented sleep. If Emmanuel had called the work Symphonia Idyllica I would not have been surprised.

The six part Suite française sports baroque movement titles. Everything is light as air, with a Courante that recalls the harmonic 'crunches' boasted by Roy Harris, a faintly elegiac Air, a Divertissement that is sans souci, a scatty Gavotte and a playful Gigue. One can imagine Martha Graham choreographing this delightful surface-bound music. The Suite was broadcast on French radio by Tony Aubin and the Orchestre Nationale.

The Second Symphony of 1931 is entitled Bretonne. It is soaked in the region's folk heritage and the legend of the ancient Atlantic city of Ys. The romantic idyllic impression now has a more alkaline after-taste often added by the woodwind. I am not sure how totally resolved the contrasted voices are. The folk-jaunty facets of the finale seem to fit incongruously with the roughened magic of the earlier movements. There is a regal Moeran ‘kick’ to the finale's writing which when combined with a lyrical counter-melody works extremely well. Superbly done.

There are some nicely translated liner-notes by Harry Halbreich to complete the picture.

Best not forget that Timpani have yet more Emmanuel in their catalogue: the Mélodies on 1C1030 and the Chamber Music on 1C1167. If you want to venture further afield try the Canteloube-folksy Chansons bourguignonnes for soprano and orchestra on Warner Erato. The six piano solo Sonatines (1893, 1897, 1920, 1920, 1926, 1926) have been recorded several times. There’s a 1987 CD by the redoubtable Peter Jacobs on Continuum CCD1048. Marie Catherine Girod - who is far too scarcely heard – recorded them and other solo and chamber works on Accord.

We can hope for future recordings of Emmanuel’s lyric tragedy Salamine.

Rob Barnett

Dreamy and abstracted, heart-touchingly poignant.