GOUNOD Symphonies Nos 1-3
By no means mainstream repertoire, Gounod’s two completed symphonies nevertheless fully merit the finesse and joie de vivre that these performances by the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana under Oleg Caetani bring to them. Mendelssohn is generally cited as the principal parallel to Gounod’s manner of symphonic writing but there is an element of early Schubert in the D major First Symphony and of Beethoven in the E flat major Second. Charm of melody is allied to an infallible technique and a lucid use of orchestral timbres. If the harmony sometimes bespeaks of a Romantic temperament, there is something of a Classical order in the music’s organisation and structure.
Besides the two symphonies, both of them composed in 1855, this disc also includes the premiere recording of a symphonic fragment in C major: the torso of a first-movement Andante molto maestoso – Moderato and a complete slow movement. These were written much later, probably in the early 1890s, when Gounod was nearing the end of his life. Although the style of the music harks back to the Gounod of old as if Brahms and César Franck had never existed, there is a weight and urgency to the three and a half extant minutes of the first movement that are tantalisingly auspicious of an intense symphonic argument; and the Andante, while still not entirely freed from Mendelssohn’s influence, emits an affecting autumnal glow. Throughout, Caetani conjures up lovely, affectionate and spirited playing of music that never fails to delight through its warmth, taste and vivacity.