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Théodore GOUVY (1819-1898) 
Symphony No. 2 in F major op. 12 (1848-49) [31:41] 
Paraphrases Symphoniques op. 89 (1886) [14:22] 
Fantaisie Symphonique (1879) [25:31] 
Württembergische Philharmonie Reutlingen/Thomas Kalb 
rec. Studio DRR, Württembergische Philharmonie, Germany, 11-12 March 2008, 15 July 2008, 17-18 September 2008. DDD 
STERLING CDS1087-2 [71:56]

Born in Prussia to a French family, Théodore Gouvy suffered from the prevailing Parisian prejudice against symphonic writing. His eclipse is surprising given his friendship with such figures as Saint-Saëns, Lalo, Massenet and Sarasate, to say nothing of Liszt and Brahms. Even Berlioz, not given to indiscriminate praise, admired him.
 
This disc gives one the chance to explore his Symphony No.2, composed in the great revolutionary years of 1848-49. Hope of a suitably militant work, if such thoughts should have existed, can safely be ignored. This is a symphony formed out of a rich appreciation of Beethoven – the incipient burgeoning of the life force that begins the Ninth is reprised at the opening of the Frenchman’s symphony. The Ninth was a work Gouvy had recently been studying and his absorption of elements of the model are apparent but the Allegro is much more of an amiable introduction with avuncular rhythms, relatively lightweight orchestration and genial themes. There’s a strong triumphal element to the Scherzo, and in the slow movement elements that remind the listener of the Pastoral Symphony. And without being especially personalised or distinctive Gouvy does manage to reveal a sensitive ear for lyrical phraseology. The finale is more Mendelssohn 4 than Beethoven 6 or 9. It has a mid-century songfulness and charm and a good dynamic tension.
 
The twelve variations and fugue that make up the Paraphrases Symphoniques op. 89 followed many years later in 1886. It’s the slower variations – this is all single tracked unfortunately – that show Gouvy’s individuality at its most marked. And if this is hardly Brahms’ Haydn Variations, it does show a thoughtful approach to pacing and contrast too.
 
A far bigger work is Fantaisie Symphonique, the orchestral version of the Fantasy for Two Pianos. This has excellently marshalled material and the play of winds against strong string tunes is adeptly done. Some strongly brooding paragraphs show the work’s genesis in the Classical-Romantic furnaces, some with hints of Mendelssohn, others with Brahmsian hues. In the compact central Adagio there are even brief suggestions of Wagnerian harmonies, which intrigues. The finale is the least interesting movement but it certainly has brio on its side.
 
These 2008 performances sound excellent, with firm and committed performances supported by typically excellent booklet documentation.
 
Jonathan Woolf

 

 



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