Émile GOUÉ (1904-1946)
Symphony No. 2 op. 39 (1943) [32:41]
Ballade on a poem by Emily Brontë op. 25 (1940) [12:42]
Max Roques (violin)
Orchestra Radio Symphony Paris/Tony Aubin (symphony)
Marie Béronita (soprano); Henriette Roget (piano); Quatuor Vocal; Quatuor Krettly/Louis de Froment (Ballade)
rec. 8 Feb 1958 (symphony); 18 Mar 1949 (Ballade). Paris Radio, Mono

Azur Classics are to be lauded for championing the little known, unsung composer Émile Goué. This latest release, the eighth in the series by my calculation, has been recorded under the auspices of La Collection du Festival International Albert Roussel. This has been under the artistic directorship of singer, conductor, composer and musicologist Damien Top, who has also provided the liner-notes. I was interested to see from the booklet that M. Top has written a biography of the composer. Both works featured are here receiving their world premiere recordings.

Goué was born in Chateauroux, central France, 13 June 1904. Highly intelligent, he combined music with a brilliant scientific and academic career. Toulouse Conservatory provided his initial musical grounding but later in Paris he came under the influence of Albert Roussel and Charles Koechlin. He married Yvonne Burg in 1927 and became the father of three children. Although his earliest compositional ventures date from 1933, it was 1936 that saw the burgeoning of an intense period of creativity; he destroyed much of his early work. The war intervened, and in 1939 he was enlisted as a lieutenant of artillery. In June 1940 he was captured and spent the next five years as a prisoner of war in Oflag XB Nienburg-on-Wesser. He died not long after his release on 10 October 1946, a broken man.

Six months after he was called up, Goué began work on his Ballade on a poem by Emily Brontë op. 25 for soprano, vocal quartet, string quartet and piano. It occupied him over the winter of 1940, and he completed it at Le Bouscat, near Bordeaux whilst on leave. Brontë, the English novelist and poet, may seem an unusual choice, but the composer had already drawn on her poetry in two sets of songs penned in 1937 and 1938: Chants de l’âme navrée, Op. 16 and Les heures étranges, Op. 19 (both of which can be found on the Azur volume entitled Mélodies (RECITAL SYPRO054). In the poem Brontë looks at three aspects of life: past, present and future. What links yesterday and tomorrow is today. The poet addresses these three stages of life in questions to a child. The answer is that the past can’t be changed but the future holds endless possibilities. We should live for today. The performance here is the premiere, on National Radio, broadcast after the composer’s death on 19 March 1949, conducted by Louis de Froment. A French and English text of Brontë’s poem is provided.

Having listened to this captivating work several times I’m struck by the way it is heavily indebted to Ravel. Marie Béronita’s enchanting voice has a seductive charm and is a positive asset. In the louder sections it is never drowned out but soars refulgently. Froment coaxes a subtle palette of sound from the vocals and strings, who blend well, the pianist’s contributions being sensitively sculpted. Although in mono sound the conductor secures favourable results. Goué’s handling of instrumental texture and the achievement of colour are a constant wonder in this deliciously evocative score.

July 1943 marked the completion of the Second Symphony. By this time the composer was interned in Oflag XB, suffering appalling living conditions. This is certainly not reflected in the optimistic and euphoric demeanour of the opening movement, the general tenor of which seems triumphant at times. He employs a solo violin which weaves its way throughout the narrative of the work; Max Roques does the honours and acquits himself admirably. The slow movement, by contrast, has a sombre feel. The solo violin intones a wistful, plaintive chant against a chromatic backdrop, with Goué’s varied pastels evoking a dreamy landscape. The Scherzo was described by the composer as dance-like, humorous and magical and he gives the brass a prominent role. The exuberant Finale is cast in a celebratory vein, portraying a world totally in contrast to the one Goué found himself inhabiting. Tony Aubin, who directs this radio broadcast, injects plenty of energy and life. The audio quality is perfectly agreeable. The Symphony was given its first performance on 13 November 1943 by the Oflag orchestra, with Jean Robin as soloist. By all accounts it was make-do-and-mend affair, with saxophones replacing bassoons and horns out of necessity.

The annotations in French and English provide an overview of the music, setting it in the context of the composer’s life. There is no doubting the value of this historical document. I would certainly now like to explore the music of Émile Goué further, especially the string quartets.

Stephen Greenbank
Previous reviews: Hubert Culot ~ Rob Barnett

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