CHAGRIN Symphonies Nos 1 & 2
Born Alexander Paucker in Bucharest, Francis Chagrin (1905-1972) settled first in Paris (where he studied with Paul Dukas and Nadia Boulanger) before moving permanently to London in 1936 (where he became a pupil of Mátyás Seiber). Three years later, he was appointed musical advisor and composer-in-chief to the BBC’s French Service – a post he held with such distinction that the French government conferred upon him the award of Officier d’Académie. During the war, he also founded the Society of the Promotion of New Music, which was supportive of (among many other important figures) Alwyn, Arnold, Bennett, Birtwistle and Maxwell Davies. As well as writing over 200 scores for the big and small screen, Chagrin left a sizeable output of concert works, including much chamber music, a Piano Concerto and the two symphonies recorded here.
Completed in 1959 and revised six years later, the First Symphony impresses by dint of its solid craftsmanship, tasteful restraint and enviable sense of purpose. The slow movement is especially eloquent, its outer portions having something of Roussel’s angular lyricism about them, while both the scherzo and finale bring with them occasional echoes of Chagrin’s film music. Towards the end the skies darken, the fretful mood momentarily banished by a glinting harp (a most effective touch). Like its predecessor, the Second Symphony is cast in four movements and clocks in at just over 28 minutes. Composed between 1965 and 1971, this proves another sinewy and rewarding utterance, skilfully orchestrated, uncompromisingly defiant in spirit and boasting (once again) a slow movement of bleak beauty. Certainly, collectors with a fondness for, say, Alan Rawsthorne, Lennox Berkeley, Arnold Cooke or Bernard Stevens should waste no time in investigating these two compositions of substance.
I can report that the BBC SO respond to the manner born under Martyn Brabbins’s unfailingly lucid lead, and the recording is realistic and helpfully detailed to match. At Naxos price this bold issue is definitely worth seeking out.