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Philippe CHAMOUARD (b.1952)
Symphony No.8 (2008) [43:47]
Poème du Vent, for orchestra (1997) [10:40]
Orchestre Symphonique du Conservatoire de Rouen/Claude Brendel
François Marchal (bagpipe)
rec. Rouen Art Theatre, France, 6-8 February 2010.
EDITIONS HORTUS 548 [54:31] 

I traditionally associate Hortus Edition with organ music. They do it well and with a dash of élan and plenty of authority. Here then is one of their rare forays into orchestral music. 

Paris-born composer Chamouard has written nine symphonies and many concertos including ones for koto, celtic harp, trumpet, cello and violin. Both Maurice André and Ennio Morricone have encouraged Chamouard to pursue his search for a musical language common to composer, interpreter and audience. If you want a further profile then please refer to my earlier feature review of some of the French composer's other symphonies.
We are confronted on this occasion with a substantial symphony in four movements for full orchestra and an overture sized Poem for string orchestra. The evidence of our ears has the composer standing revealed as an unabashed romantic melodist. This does not mean an undifferentiated wash of superficially attractive sound. Instead we have a composer whose writing is never less than emotionally taut and sometimes intense. The music has its darkly dramatic episodes but shares DNA with the film world in its vividly coloured progress and lyrical gifts.
Big zaftig themes are there among the pages of the epic first movement Moderato of the Symphony. After a dazzling, jazzily intriguing and ringingly dynamic marcato scherzo section the composer is drawn back to the romantic lushness of the first movement only to return to a jazzily Lambert-like emphatic episode. The Grave third movement has that feeling of coming home. It's taut and tense with something approaching foreboding. At 3.15 the bagpipes enter played by François Marchal giving voice to Amazing Grace. This element is artfully woven, without elaboration, into the tense and dense orchestral canvas. The bagpipes fade to silence at 7.20 and the orchestra, plangent and atmospheric, returns. This is calming music of slow dripping and centred self-benediction. The final Largo Cantabile addresses the listener in deep lunged paragraphs with themes that teeter on edge of the elongated main theme in Herrmann's Marnie. It’s glowingly attractive in an almost Mahlerian way - Chamouard has written about Mahler. The symphony ends in a great surging up-wash of sound. 

The gentle and unassertive Poème du Vent is founded on a poem by Oshikhoshi Mitsume. Again there are some echoes here of Mahler's Adagietto and of Herrmann's elite cantabile writing for strings: beauty and melancholy contending at close quarters.
This is another fine and unconventional entry in the annals of the symphony in the 20th and 21st centuries.  

Rob Barnett 

And a further review of this disc ...

Paris-born Philippe Chamouard has to deal with the same problems that confront any composer of orchestral music - finding a decent ensemble to rehearse and perform, let alone immortalise, his works. Those who write for the film, TV or computer games industry may strike lucky at times, but often it is a choice between not having one's music performed and having it done by an obscure, amateur or simply poor orchestra. This review of three earlier symphonic recordings of Chamouard wisely focuses entirely on the music rather than players, but the Orchestre Régional de Bayonne-Côte Basque, the Lublin Philharmonic Orchestra and Olsztyn State Philharmonic Orchestra are unlikely to have been high on the composer's wishlist. By the way, Hortus have just released a recording of Chamouard's Symphony no.7 performed by the better-known Hungarian Symphony Orchestra. 

The Rouen Conservatory Symphony Orchestra, on the other hand, does not have much of a presence even in France. Its strings and brass sections are the weaker elements as far as intonation is concerned, but no one is entirely safe when it comes to injudicious phrasing or timing. Even the Highland bagpipe player in the curious third movement of the Symphony does not exactly cover himself in glory, with rather poor breath control in evidence. The notes say, tellingly, that "This association with classical music has been a new experience for [François Marchal] and has fitted his permanent desire for pushing back the musical limits of bagpipes." 

On the other hand, the sound balance seems so ill-advised for this movement that he may have some scope for mitigation. At any rate, Hortus's recording is further undermined by an audio quality that is, for all the detail made available, thin and scruffy. 

Chamouard himself will likely think the compromises in sound and interpretation a price worth paying to get his music into the wider public, and some listeners at least will agree. Certainly, the Poème du Vent ('Poem of the Wind') is a lovely work for string orchestra, a wistful, almost melancholic piece not unlike Strauss's Metamorphosen in spirit. The Eighth Symphony is a sprawling, in some ways hybrid work, but still worth hearing. The second movement, after Gershwin, starts off like something out of an old Judy Garland musical, before turning a bit Bernsteinesque - it may be noted in passing that the orchestra seems more at home in this lighter fare. The incorporation of the well-known 'Amazing Grace' tune into all four movements guarantees that anyone who hears the Symphony will not forget it, particularly after the lengthy part-solo rendering by the bagpipes in the third. Chamouard's notes suggest that he is unaware that the 'tradition' of playing 'Amazing Grace' on the pipes is only forty years old, or indeed that there is more than one kind of 'Scottish' bagpipes, but the impact of this movement remains.  

The booklet notes are informative and well written, although the translation from French has thrown up some amusing phrases, like: "The creation of his Eighth Symphony took place on February 2nd, 2010 in the Rouen Art Theatre". 

In sum, anyone who enjoyed any of the earlier releases indicated above may as well add this to their collection, even if Hortus might have been more generous with the timing. Others must wonder whether to wait for a better recording - which could, unfortunately, take forever.  

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