Macfarren

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Macfarren
LABELS: CPO
WORKS: Symphony No. 4; Symphony No. 7
PERFORMER: Queensland PO/Werner Andreas Albert
CATALOGUE NO: 999
Nineteenth-century British composers (Sullivan excepted) have always been regarded as a fairly low species of musical life. However, various recording projects, not least Chandos’s Parry and Stanford series, point to rather greater vitality, and a new series from CPO devoted to the eight symphonies of George Macfarren, one time Cambridge professor and Principal of the Royal Academy of Music, looks set to support the upward reappraisal.

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Born in the same year as Wagner and Verdi, Macfarren owes allegiance to neither. A generation older than Stanford and Parry, his major influences were Beethoven and, principally, Mendelssohn, whose urbanity and fine craftsmanship are everywhere in evidence. Indeed, Macfarren’s Fourth was composed hard on the heels of the Italian Symphony’s UK premiere, and it shows, not least in the bracing six-eight of the opening Allegro, the coy charm of the Andante, and the unquenchable high spirits of the finale. Yet even within these limits, and despite a curiously lumpen Minuet hearkening back to an earlier period, an individual, sometimes striking, talent emerges.

The Seventh, however, composed less than a decade later, soon after Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream music, is a major advance, even if the rather unusual key of C sharp minor, provoking Macfarren to some relatively bold tonal adventures, evokes the Beethoven of the Moonlight Sonata rather than the more recent, and radical, Op. 131 Quartet. Its Allegro is suitably tempestuous, the Andante cantabile yields evocative, almost impressionistic textures, and the closing Presto evolves as a sizzling moto perpetuo. Performances from Werner Andreas Albert and the Queensland Philharmonic Orchestra are clean and efficient rather than probing, but do not detract from an enjoyable start to the series.

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Antony Bye