WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2 (Le double)
PERFORMER: BBC Philharmonic/Yan Pascal Tortelier
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9194 DDD
You would think from the general run of concerts that French symphonies began with Franck and Saint-Saëns and expired, at their peak, with Roussel. Whatever happened next? One answer is Messiaen’s Turangalîla Symphony, though that is overwhelmed by a riot of strange and wonderful things that are not about being a symphony. If you find Messiaen daunting, here are two magnificent missing links.
They are Fifties pieces, not given their due at the time precisely because fashion favoured the Messiaen line. Their roots lie in the fastidious lavishness of Ravel and early Stravinsky as much as the symphonic tradition. The First Symphony takes off from a quirky, easy-to-follow Passacaglia into long flights of rhythmic verve, Romantic dash, and subtle, alluring chord sequences. The musical quest of No. 2 is still more adventurous in harmony and colour, and just as lucid and personal.
Underpinning the music’s vital, sensuous and visionary character is an inexhaustible flair for variation and a gift for magic, most evident in the still centres and slow epilogues. Tortelier and the BBC Philharmonic also find wide-spanned melodic qualities that have not always emerged so strongly. With this brightly played, warmly recorded issue, they confirm their own coming of age as a musical partnership. Robert Maycock