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Louis THIRION (1879-1966)
Symphony No. 2 in B minor (1913-19) [37:31]
Jacques THIÉRAC (1896-1972)
Symphonie normande (1947) [31:24]
Orchestre Radio-Symphonique de la Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française (Thirion), Orchestre Philharmonique de la Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française (Thiérac)/Eugène Bigot
rec. live, 22 October 1959 (Thirion), 13 May 1962 (Thiérac)

It is always refreshing to make a new discovery, and Forgotten Records have certainly hit the jackpot with this one. Of the two symphonies, one was written during the course of the First World War, and the second was penned just after the Second World War hostilities ceased. Neither work, as far as I am aware, has had the luxury of a studio recording, but we are fortunate enough to have radio broadcasts of both, made in France and conducted by Eugène Bigot. Louis Thirion, I am pleased to say, I have encountered once before. I reviewed a disc of his chamber music in 2016. It impressed me so much I made it a Recording of the Month. I have never heard of Jacques Thiérac. Forgotten Records rarely provides annotations with their historical releases, but this time there are welcome biographies of the two, albeit written in French.

Louis Thirion was born in 1879 in Baccarat, east of Paris. He went on to study music at the Nancy Conservatory, where Guy Ropartz taught him composition. Ropartz appointed him Professor of Organ and Piano in 1898. When war broke out, he embarked on a period of military service. Then in 1920 his wife died and he was left to raise two young children single-handed. From then on he made the conscious decision to give up composing and devote the rest of his life to teaching. He remained at the Conservatory in Nancy until 1949, and died in the city in 1966.

He composed two symphonies. The first, from 1909, was premiered by Gabriel Pierné at the Concerts Colonne two years later. The second symphony, begun in 1913, had a more prolonged genesis. The orchestration was not completed until 1919, the delay most probably due to the intervention of war. It, too, received a premiere by Pierné and the Colonne Orchestra. Cast in four movements, the work shuns avant-garde developments and resides firmly in late Romantic pastures. The opening movement sounds, in parts, very Franckian, with one motif cropping up strongly reminiscent of something in César Franck’s Symphony in D minor. A lively scherzo-like movement follows, light on its feet, flighty and irresolute. Glowing, luminous embers invest the introspective slow movement with calm and tranquillity. I think it is the finest movement of the four, and could certainly stand alone. Swirling strings and brass interjections reveal a more than competently orchestrated finale, which calls time with all guns blazing.

Jacques Thiérac was born in Paris on 9 March 1896. Marc Delmas spotted his early talent, and he began music studies with Paul Vidal. He started to compose. In 1916 he wrote Plainte funèbre for a comrade killed in battle. His career was temporarily halted during World War 1, and after hostilities he returned to Paris. He later took some lessons in orchestration from Charles Koechlin. He was a great friend of Arthur Honegger. In 1937 he received the Légion d'Honneur. Between 1947 and 1969, his work was performed by such conductors as Roger Désormière, Gaston Poulet, Pierre Dervaux, Désiré-Émile Inghelbrecht, Manuel Rosenthal, Paul Paray and Eugène Bigot as in this performance. He died in Paris in 1972.

Although a Parisian by birth, Thiérac inherited a love of Normandy from his mother. He composed his Symphonie normande in 1947. The title of the first of three movements translates as “Orchards in Spring”. Woodwind imitate birdsong in this evocative pastoral canvas, the sun shines, and the weighted trees sway in the breeze. The second movement is titled “Hollow Path near the Chapel”. The music takes on a more meditative tone, with richer, burnished autumnal hues realized in the orchestration. The third panel celebrates “The Joy of Sunny Harvests”. Everything is optimistic and celebratory as nature’s bounty is reaped.

As with most radio broadcasts of this vintage, a certain pallor envelopes the sound, with some loss of detail on occasion. Nevertheless, I am pleased to make acquaintance with these two orchestral works. Their added value is the fact that, unless some enterprising and visionary label comes along and makes new recordings, they are doomed to remain lost, except to those with a taste for recherché repertoire.

Stephen Greenbank

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