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Paul JUON (1872-1940)
Orchestral Works - Volume 1
Vægtervise (Fantasy on Danish Folk Songs) Op. 31 (1904?) [18:10]
Symphony in A major Op. 23 (1903) [42:38]
Moscow SO/Christof Escher
rec. 2011, Mosfilm Studios, Moscow
STERLING CDS1103-2 [61:28]

Having had the pleasure of reviewing the new Sony recording of Juon’s Violin Concerto, reviewed here and here, I was pleased to have the chance of reviewing this Sterling CD of his orchestral works.

Juon had Swiss parents, but had some training in Russia under Taneyev and Arensky, and followed it by studies in Berlin. Unsurprisingly, both these influences can be heard in the two early works performed here.

I was immediately taken by the opening of his Fantasy, the sound of a carillon (inspired by the Town Hall clock in Copenhagen) followed by gentle strings and harp, makes an effective curtain raiser, and leads us on into a piece that sounds like an echo from the works of The Mighty Handful, Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakov especially spring to mind. In fact, the booklet note mentions the latter’s Russian Easter Festival Overture, which is an apt comparison. It really is a very attractive work, and makes an immediate impact through its fine melodic content, derived from the tune played by the aforementioned clock, and its very colourful orchestration.

The principal work on the disc is the Symphony in A, his second, and here the Russians are much less in evidence, although one can easily detect Tchaikovsky in the finale, but there is not the sheer power that one finds in his later symphonies and Manfred, despite the fact that it is probably the most forceful of the movements. In fact, for the most part I suppose that the main influence through the entire work is Brahms, and the woodwind in the third movement Romanza, certainly remind me of him. The scherzo also bounces along in a jolly Brahmsian way. Perhaps the fact that it was composed in Berlin and premiered in Meiningen by the Brahms disciple, Fritz Steinbach, had something to do with its Germanic content.

The orchestra play very well for Christof Escher, especially since they can hardly be familiar with the music. The recording is fine, and the booklet notes, in German and English are most informative.

It is CDs such as this that introduce the listener to the byways of music that I so esteem. As long as one is willing to move away from the standard repertoire, and to accept that to be enjoyable does not mean that music has to be great, then listening can be fun as well as informative. It often gives life to names that just appear as footnotes in biographies of the great composers.

Jim Westhead

Previous reviews: Rob Barnett ~ Stephen Greenbank

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