Charles GOUNOD (1819-1893)
Symphony No. 1 in D (1855) [29.08]
Symphony No. 2 in E flat (1856) [35.28]
Orchestra of St John’s, Smith Square/John Lubbock
rec. Henry Wood Hall, London, 2 May 1996 (1) and 18 April 1993 (2) ASV PRESTO CD CDDCA981 [65.01]
Gounod’s two symphonies are early works, written before the composer had established his reputation with the opera Faust, never performed or published in Gounod’s lifetime, and indeed not recorded at all until the days of LP. It would be idle to pretend that they are masterpieces, or indeed anything more than proficient and essentially lightweight scores which deserve occasional performance. Not surprisingly they are generally to be found coupled together on CD, and three of the currently listed discs do exactly that. One – conducted by Oleg Caetani on CPO 777 863-2 – also includes brief fragments of a Third Symphony.
At the time of the original release of this disc in 1996 its only competitor in the catalogues was a similar coupling given by Neville Marriner with his Academy of St-Martin-in-the-Fields. Robert McColley writing in Fanfare seems to have preferred that version to a later one conducted by Patrick Gallois on Naxos, but in any event Marriner’s recording is no longer listed on Archiv as currently available. McColley notes that Marriner despatched the symphonies in less time than Gallois’s 68 minutes, and suspects that this may have been because he cut the indicated repeats in the score; I am not able to confirm this. Be that as it may, it is good to see that Presto have obtained the rights to reissue this ASV disc which enables us once again to encounter these charming if slight symphonic efforts. The First Symphony is often cited as the inspiration for Bizet’s equally youthful Symphony in C, and although it lacks the sheer memorable and melodious qualities of the latter score it is still a delight to hear it occasionally. The playing and recording are both fresh and engaging.
Gounod completists may be attracted by Caetani’s additional item, but I cannot comment on the quality of his performance with the usually reliable Italian Swiss Radio Orchestra on the CPO disc released last year. Apparently the fragments only last some three minutes or so, and otherwise this account by John Lubbock earns a clear recommendation. It is good to see it – and so many other valuable ASV releases – re-emerging into availability. Presto have faithfully reproduced the original booklet with notes in English, French and German. Paul Corfield Godfrey