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Anton SIMON (1850-1916)
Danse de Bayadère, fantasia for large orchestra, Op. 34 (1890) [7:35]
Piano Concerto in A flat major, Op.19 (1886, perf. ed. Martin Yates (2018) [25:52]
La Revue de Nuit, symphonic poem for orchestra, Op. 36 (1890) [15:01]
Two Dances from Don Quixote (1900) [4:12]
Plainte Elégiaque, Op. 38, No. 2 (1892) [6:01]
Cécile CHAMINADE (1857-1944)
Suite No. 1 for Orchestra, Op. 20 (1881) [16:41]
Victor Sangiorgio (piano), BBC Concert Orchestra / Martin Yates
rec. 2016/2018, Watford Colosseum
DUTTON CDLX7374 [75:56]

Little-known now, Anton Simon was born in Paris where he studied but spent almost all his adult life in Moscow. There he was a theatre and orchestra director as well as becoming Music Director of a significant institute and teaching piano at the Moscow Philharmonic Society’s school. This was a wide-ranging portfolio of appointments but he also found time to compose, albeit selectively, as there are 63 or so published works with opus number. The most prominent were a series of operas written in the 1890s, but concert music provides the bulk of his compositional output and this disc presents a mighty handful only one of which, the two dances from Don Quixote, has previously been recorded.

The Piano Concerto of 1886, heard in the performing edition completed by Martin Yates, was once conducted by Mahler. It’s cast in a confident romantic language, mining an elegant conversational and Schumanesque vernacular. Its first movement cadenza runs the gamut of salon to virtuoso and its affectionate slow movement also sports some strong columnar brass blocks and in which grandeur is again juxtaposed with something altogether more avuncular. The finale, by contrast, is skittish and ebullient, almost Litolff-like in places. It’s certainly no masterpiece but it’s good to have this representative example of Simon’s concerto work on disc at last.

The Danse de Bayadère of 1890 is a fantasia for large orchestra that could have been inspired by Minkus or Rimsky. There are typical ‘eastern’ exotica in the winds in the context of a swirling temple dance, and it succeeds as a theatrically bracing if somewhat conventional concert work. A more expansive piece is La Revue de Nuit, a symphonic poem for orchestra written in the same year and in probably his most productive decade. Its subject is a ballad by Vasily Zhukovsky in which ‘Napoleon’s dead soldiers rise for inspection by their general’ as Guy Rickards makes clear in his informative notes. Along with suitably sepulchral basses there is a succession of march themes, both jaunty and very busy. The pictorialism, the bustle, alarums and movement are an index of clear rhythmic and orchestral skill. The ebullience is bracing and resplendent even if the quotations of La Marseillaise and God Save the King are rather crude. The music slows to a suitably quiet, poignant end.

The two Don Quixote dances are remembered best for the Souvenir de Bal, which became well-known when orchestrated by Riccardo Drigo for his own ballet The Corsair. Originally piano works Simon worked them into the revived of Ludwig Minkus’ ballet. The Souvenir is charming and characteristic and Drigo’s orchestration is delightful. The Danse Espagnole is lightly Iberian. The Plainte Elégiaque offers a warmly textured envoi.

The disc is topped by a work by one of Simon’s French contemporaries, Cécile Chaminade. Her Suite No.1, Op.20 offers four straighforward movements composed in 1881 and heard here in the edition made by Adolphe Gauwin (1865-1934). The opening March is big-boned though not military, the Intermezzo has brass and percussion aplenty but also Gallic drollery. Whereas the Scherzo is a balletic affair with a slightly Slavic B section and a vibrant Choral (Les Noces d’Or) finale completes a well characterised, deliberately lightweight piece.

Pianist Victor Sangiorgio sounds thoroughly on top of the Concerto and Yates, in his dual role as provider of two performing editions and as conductor, marshals his forces strongly. Simon’s music is attractive and rewarding though I can’t imagine it’s much of a candidate for concert programming.

Jonathan Woolf

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