Sauguet Symphony No. 1

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Sauguet Symphony No. 1

  • Symphony No. 1

Almost as productive as his friend Darius Milhaud, Henri Sauguet (1901-89) is poorly represented on the Gramophone Database; his stage works are not listed at all. This might seem an odd fate for the man Stravinsky at one time considered the most important of his younger French contemporaries. Alas, the present issue isn’t really good enough to provide more than a hint of what we might be missing.
Sauguet’s First Symphony was composed at the same time as Les forains, the work with which he and Boris Kochno revived Parisian ballet after the German occupation. It is obviously intended to be elevated in tone, but it is difficult to know whether to attribute its gentleness and pallor to Sauguet’s early infatuation with Erik Satie or to the fact that the Moscow orchestra seem wholly unfamiliar with the idiom, take no risks and play too slowly. The first movement in particular seems strangely relaxed for an Allegro of any sort. The composer is quoted in the notes as referring to it as a “moto perpetuo” with the “breathless, pulsating, five-time... of fate”. It is probably meant to go a great deal faster and sound at least vaguely French despite the scalic, quasi-Sibelian quality of the main material.
The second movement fares better, elegiac and lyrical in a way that occasionally recalls – in this performance – Miaskovsky. The third is enlivened by would-be archetypal French, German and Russian material, including a Prokofiev parody designed to represent the Soviet army on the march. In the finale the composer seeks to expiate the crime of having lived through appalling times without having been able to do anything to prevent them. The music strives for nobility without heroics but risks coming across as merely bland when set beside similarly intentioned big statements by Honegger, Vaughan Williams or Prokofiev – to name but three.
Sauguet’s intentions may be admirable but his somewhat rambling music requires more ardent advocacy (and doubtless more rehearsal time) than Marco Polo provide. The recording is fuzzy above mezzo forte which doesn’t help. Don’t let me put you off. Only don’t expect to find here a score which communicates with passionate persuasiveness.'

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