GOUVY: Symphony No. 3, op. 20 in C. Symphony No. 5, op. 30 in B-flat.
Deutsche Radio Philharmonie, Saarbrücken Kaiserslautern/Jacques Mercier.
CPO 777 379-2 (F) (DDD) TT: 55:23.
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The history of the French symphony before the Saint-Saëns cycle is
rather fitful, with what amount to "sports" by Bizet and Gounod.
Berlioz's examples are idiosyncratic, conscious attempts to develop the
symphony outside the classical line. However, musical life in France centered
in Paris. Paris went mad for opera and ballet and considered the symphony
both too academic and too "German." Louis Théodore Gouvy,
born in the Alsace-Lorraine region, stubbornly concentrated on writing
symphonies and instrumental music, although he composed one opera on the
story of El Cid. Fortunately, coming from a very wealthy family, he didn't
have to rely on music to live. Indeed, he paid for performances of his
works in Paris. Germany, however, welcomed his music, especially Leipzig
and the Gewandhaus Orchestra. He travelled there frequently and thoroughly
bilingual in French and German, became friendly with the Mendelssohn family.
Listening to these two scores, I don't find any of that surprising. Both
symphonies move lightly and sprightly in a Mendelssohnian way. The Third's
finale, for example, uses a driving rhythm right out of the opening of
Mendelssohn's "Italian" Symphony as well as of the tarantella
from that same work. Although Gouvy's symphonies don't reach Mendelssohn's
level, they nevertheless are attractive. There's little innovation, except
in instrumentation, and you can't consider them milestones in the history
of the symphony. However, they have the happy ability to please. If you
(like me) enjoy the Bizet symphony, although it possesses a more individual
profile, you might take pleasure in these. I happen to like the Third more
than the Fifth for those reasons. It's certainly the more Mendelssohnian
of the two.
Mercier and his band do well, though not spectacularly well, in conveying
the spirit of the two scores. Everything hangs together. You get some of
the works' vivacity, but you can easily imagine more. However, other companies
are unlikely to issue competing versions.
S.G.S. (April 2010)