Henri RABAUD (1873-1949)
Symphony No. 2 in E minor Op.5 (1899-1900) [45:46]
La Procession nocturne - symphonic poem after Lenau's Faust, Op 6 (1898) [13:59]
Églogue op. 7 (1895?) [5:11]
Orchestre Philharmonique de Sofia/Nicolas Couton
rec. Bulgaria Hall, Sofia, 4-6 May 2012
World Première Recording (Sym 2)
TIMPANI 1C1197 [64:36]
Pathé-Marconi, the French wing of EMI Classics, used to produce luxury LPs of rare French music. Their British and US avatars were a pale reflection of those gatefold wonders. Henri Rabaud was one of the beneficiaries of that series in a fest conducted by Pierre Dervaux with the Orchestre Philharmonique des Pays de la Loire on EMI 2C 069-16303. Those recordings are most commonly encountered now not on a one-off Esprit Français CD but in a 3-CD boxed set (2005) alongside similarly rare d'Indy and Pierné from the same series. The Rabaud works are: Divertissment on Russian Themes, Procession Nocturne, Mârouf, Sauvetier du Caire and Églogue. Rabaud’s firmest grip on classical audiences derives from his presence, alongside others such as Koechlin and Caplet, as an arranger of works by elite French composers. Thus he orchestrated Fauré’s Dolly Suite. In 2013 his opera Mârouf, Sauvetier du Caire will appear at the Paris Opéra Comique. VAI Audio issued his own late 1920s recordings of Procession Nocturne and the Marouf ballet music. Timpani issued Albert Wolff’s Procession Nocturne as part of a 4-CD Wolff celebration in 2002. There is nothing to match the present disc which is built around a complete newcomer in the shape of the Second Symphony.
Of the two Rabaud symphonies the First is in D minor – his Op. 1 from 1893. Not sure what has become of that score. The Second Symphony is a patently ambitious affair and while it has picturesque elements it proclaims itself from the outset as a work in which the great verities will be explored – even challenged. Ambition is one thing – accomplishment another. It comes off in large part but while it does so it delivers itself of some fine and gloomily romantic – even Gothic - inspirations. The first movement Allegro moderato immediately strikes a defiant attitude. There’s that statuesque fanfare-based idea combining elements of fate motifs from Beethoven 5 and Tchaikovsky 4. You will hear that craggy music several times in the movement and also in the finale. Along the way, among the Sturm und drang, we also hear Brucknerian gradients (2:10; 11:47) and a sustained lyrical Rachmaninovian climax (6.40) contrasted at 3:32 with a feminine woodwind-led idyll. There are some torridly protesting climaxes along the way, as at 9:33 with brass and strings at full stretch slashed through with swirling woodwind figures. The sound of the Andante recalls the organ loft: long singing lines and plangent liturgical atmosphere settling into dreamy disengagement and Delian flow. The soulful upwelling of this writing is quite touching with its overarching Franckian flavour. Cast all such aside for the Dvorák/Bizet chuckle of the Allegro vivace. This is jumpy-jaunty music across which we are treated to a long yet quick-coursing melody that sings along with a full set of lungs. In the centre there are some doe-eyed reminiscences of the pulse-calming Andante. The finale starts with smokily eldritch woodwind tendrils twirling skywards. We seem to be in the middle of the early stages of some supernatural ceremony - a touch of Night on the Bare Mountain here and of Tapiola there. Gothic storms begin to predominate before the return of that Fate motif. When that fades we move to a fine example of Unendliche Melodie with aspiring passionate strings and then a touch of the clamorous Sibelius 2 finale. The composer is telling us that this is an epic canvas and so it is. It’s well worth hearing and sports some impressive writing though it is not a symphony of the very front rank.
Then come two of Rabaud’s less unfamiliar pieces. The Night Procession suggests a Contemplative Order on the march. It combines sequestered reflection with lustrous Wagnerian darkness. It’s all quite filmic – I wonder if John Barry knew this piece. It has something in common with the curvature of the Symphony’s andante. Peace reigns without turbulence in the Églogue. This essay in the gentle and sun-dappled warmth of a dusty summer might well have been a forebear of Delius’s similar works. It is related to the worlds of Schoeck’s glorious Sommernacht and Suk’s Summer Tale and Ripening.
I hope that there will be more from Couton and this Sofia orchestra. I have my fingers crossed for a Witkowski orchestral collection. I wonder if Gareth Vaughan could persuade them to record the similarly ambitious Holbrooke symphony Apollo and the Seaman alongside the magically impressionistic choral-orchestral Queen Mab. After that, if they are still looking for something just as promising and intriguing then why not the orchestral music of Cecil Gray and Sam Hartley Braithwaite.
This is a rewarding and revelatory disc thoroughly documented by Jacques Tchamkerten. It will not disappoint those many followers of the late-romantic symphonic tradition.

Rob Barnett

Rewarding and revelatory.

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