Milhaud Symphonies Nos. 10-12
Continuing his useful series of the Milhaud symphonies, Alun Francis has now come to the final three (except for the choral Pacem in terris, which is more oratorio than symphony) – their numbering, however, does not include the six early chamber symphonies of around 1920. Since Milhaud himself once said that he viewed traditional symphonic form askance and – as Christopher Headington remarked when reviewing Symphonies Nos. 7-9 (6/95) – his structures are loose, it is perhaps surprising that he should have ventured so extensively into this territory. But he was a compulsive composer, never happy unless writing; and the present three works were all commissioned in the USA between 1960 and 1961 for special events there.
The Tenth, for the centenary of the state of Oregon, is the most substantial in size, though (as has been pointed out before) like so many of his works it suffers from a plethora of barely co-ordinated ideas. The gentle lyricism of its second movement is most attractive, however; there is an extraordinary scherzo marked fantasque; and the composer’s remark that the finale’s theme corresponds to the name Oregon is a teaser. If it was he who subtitled No. 11 the Romantic he could only have had in mind its mostly contemplative middle movement which, it has been suggested, evokes the quietly absorbed atmosphere in the public library at Dallas, whose symphony orchestra commissioned the work: for the rest, the prevailing angularity and violence lead one to speculate what his feelings towards the city really were. A quite different and calmer atmosphere invests the smaller-scale No. 12, which was destined for the inauguration of a concert-hall at the University of California at Davis, whose emphasis on agricultural studies lay behind the work’s appellation of the Rural. Rustic pursuits, however, evidently do not entirely preclude robust high spirits, as in the second movement and finale.
All three symphonies are played by this Swiss orchestra with conspicuous clarity and assurance: could it be an Alpine background that enables the violins so hardily to negotiate Milhaud’s pitilessly vertiginous writing?'