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Jean RIVIER (1897-1987)
Symphony No. 3 in G major, for String Orchestra (1938) [21:15]
Symphony No. 5 in A minor (1950) [24:02]
Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française/Georges Tzipine
rec. 20 February 1958 (No. 3), 10 April 1958 (No. 5),
Maison de la Mutualité, Paris

It was Christopher Howell's excellent article in his Forgotten Artists Series on Georges Tzipine, the French violinist, conductor and composer of Russian-Jewish origin, that initially kindled my interest in this particular recording. I was reviewing another CD from the Forgotten Records stable at the time, featuring orchestral works by André Caplet, Jean Rivier and Paul Le Flem, conducted by Ernest Bour (FR1259 - review).

Jean Rivier was born on July 21, 1896 in Villemomble. He studied at the Paris Conservatoire with Jean Gallon, Georges Caussade and Maurice Emmanuel. I was interested to discover that he had also had cello tuition from Paul Bazelaire. He was a World War I volunteer, surviving one of its worst battles and becoming a mustard gas victim, suffering serious lung damage. Most of his life was spent in Paris, but a summer retreat on the Riviera offered him some peace and serenity and was a source of musical inspiration. He was very much a family man. He served as Professor of Composition at the Paris Conservatory from 1948 until 1966 when he retired. He’s regarded as an outstanding exponent of French neo-classicism. He composed eight symphonies, four of which are for strings only (2, 3, 4 and 8). Aside from these he composed chamber music, concertos, choral music, piano works, music for solo instruments, and accompanied songs. Sadly, his music was often eclipsed by the increasingly avant-garde compositions of more progressive French composers.

The Symphony No. 3 in G major for String Orchestra was composed in 1938. It was dedicated to Jane Evrard, who was also the dedicatee of Albert Roussel's Sinfonietta. The lighter textures that a strings-only ensemble provides is matched successfully by the less serious musical material. The bucolic mien of the opener paints a carefree, serene and pastoral landscape. A whirling scherzo-like movement follows, with generous helpings of pizzicato. I particularly like the slow movement, it emits a warm diaphanous glow. Rivier gives us a fugal finale, brusque, craggy and jagged. The Third Symphony scored a hit when first performed and it's not difficult to see why.

The Symphony No. 5 dates from 1950. A brief, gloomily clad Lento introduction ushers in an animated neoclassically spiky first movement. The potent thrust of the music occasionally gives way to more lyrical moments, but they're short-lived. The underlying mood is one of combat and struggle. Pierrot burlesque is the way I would describe the Scherzo. Rivier's adept, colourful orchestration is an attractive feature. The sombre, doleful tread of the slow movement is mournful and funereal. The lighter orchestral textures in this movement offer some pleasing balm. The Symphony ends with a boisterous finale, with brash brass salvos adding to the thrill near the end.

I have to say, I have a preference for the earlier live 1951 performance of the Fifth Symphony with the same orchestra conducted by Ernest Bour (FR1259). The sound has more depth to it, and Bour’s more energized and inspired reading lifts the performance to greater heights in my view.

Forgotten Records have digitally remastered these recordings from two pristine LP source copies: Pathé DTX 286 and HMV 2 C 05310827. These are mono recordings, and my research tells me that there are no stereo equivalents. At the time they won a Grand Prix du Disque. They sound respectable for their age. For those wanting these symphonies in modern sound I can recommend a fine recording of the Third Symphony on a Pavane CD played by the Orchestre Bernard Calmel conducted by Calmel (ADW 7328). The disc includes two other string symphonies, nos. 4 and 8.

Stephen Greenbank

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